Owen a doubt for England's crucial qualifiers

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The Independent Football

Michael Owen could miss England's crucial Euro 2008 qualifiers against Estonia and Russia next month after it emerged last night that the striker will have to undergo a hernia operation at some point. The news comes after Steve McClaren lost Emile Heskey to a broken metatarsal on Saturday.

The prospect of missing Owen at Wembley against Estonia and for the pivotal game against Russia in Moscow – in which England must get a point to stay on track for qualification – is an even greater blow for McClaren. Owen was substituted after 55 minutes in Newcastle's 1-0 defeat to Derby County last night and Sam Allardyce admitted that the 27-year-old was feeling " tightness" in his groin.

However, The Independent understands that Owen's problem is more serious than that and an operation will be needed on his groin at some stage. The timing of that surgery will be crucial to England's Euro 2008 qualification campaign. Hernia operations ordinarily require around three to four weeks recuperation before a player can get back to action. England play Estonia on 13 October and face Russia in Moscow on the artificial pitch at the Luzhniki stadium four days' later.

Having rekindled a partnership that was last England's first choice forward line around four years ago, Heskey is now out of the two games in October and the final match against Croatia in November – and now Owen is a serious doubt. The Newcastle striker has endured wretched luck with injuries over the two seasons previous to this one. He missed four months with a broken metatarsal in the second half of the 2005-2006 season. Then he ruptured a cruciate ligament at the World Cup in June and did not play at all last season until April.

McClaren does have options but the question mark over Owen's fitness will linger even if the striker chooses not to opt for surgery on the hernia just yet. Allardyce played down the extent of the striker's discomfort yesterday and said that his substitution was "precautionary". But he did concede that the club were not certain that Owen would be fit to play against West Ham on Sunday.

"He wanted to carry on but he felt his groin at half-time," Allardyce said. "I just didn't want to take any risks. I let him go out [for the second half] but didn't think he looked very comfortable so I put Oba [Martins] on pretty quick.

"I just hope Michael's [injury is] not too serious. We don't think it will be, you can expect a little tightness with all the games he's had and particularly the two England games and, of course, he hasn't had that many over the last couple of years so he's getting better and sharper and fitter. He felt the groin [last night] and had he carried on and extended himself in any way, he might have actually pulled it. We don't think he has, we think he's going to be OK for Sunday against West Ham."

Owen's two goals against Russia at Wembley last week appeared to herald the striker's return to form and fitness at international level. However, it has been a concern at Newcastle for some time that he may need an operation on his groin. He missed the first game of the season against Bolton Wanderers with an unspecified thigh injury but has played eight times since then - five for his club and three for England.

Should Owen miss England's next two Euro 2008 qualifiers then McClaren will have the alternative of another big man/small man partnership to take over from Heskey and Owen. Wayne Rooney could yet be in Manchester United’s squad to face Sporting Lisbon in their first Champions League match tomorrow after recovering from his fractured foot within five weeks.

Liverpool’s Peter Crouch is desperate for his chance to start for England and has always looked a good foil for Rooney.

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