Owen says Heskey exclusion shows wealth of England attack

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The Independent Online

Michael Owen believes the fact that his former Liverpool team-mate Emile Heskey has been dropped from the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Poland is proof of the wealth of attacking talent available to manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

Michael Owen believes the fact that his former Liverpool team-mate Emile Heskey has been dropped from the England squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Poland is proof of the wealth of attacking talent available to manager Sven-Goran Eriksson.

"I think it is important for England that there are very good players in every position," the Real Madrid striker said yesterday. "I think we have been fortunate over the years to have a lot of competition for places.

"The English season has only just kicked off but there are a lot of players who are already playing really well. Jermain Defoe has started really well as has Alan Smith and I think it's good to have a lot of competition for different places just like there is at Madrid. It makes you improve and go that extra yard when you know that your place is not 100 per cent safe."

Heskey, who joined Birmingham City in the close season, was left out of the 23-strong squad despite the fact that Wayne Rooney was unavailable for selection because of injury, but Owen tipped the powerful striker to make a rapid return to the England team.

"The manager can only pick so many players and a lot have had a turn at missing out at some stage," he said. "But Emile's a fantastic player and I think he knows better than anyone about the ups and downs of football and I'm sure he'll be back."

Owen made an impressive debut for Real Madrid when he came on for the injured Raul after just 25 minutes of their opening league fixture in Mallorca on Sunday night. The 24-year-old set up Ronaldo to score the only goal of the game when he put in a perfect cross to the far post after jinking his way into the area.

"It was unfortunate that Raul got injured so early on but obviously that gave me the chance to come on earlier than I expected," he said. "I did some good things and I did some bad things so there is still a lot of improvement in my game to come. But I was happy that I'd made my debut and happy the team won."

The England striker, who is in direct competition with Raul for a place in the Real starting line-up, adopted a diplomatic tone when asked about the Real skipper's apparent loss of form.

"I think Raul is a fantastic player," he said. "He's been one of the best strikers in the world for a while now. He's quite similar to me at Liverpool in terms of coming through the youth ranks before ending up in the first team and scoring lots of goals. I admire him and I'm sure he'll score plenty of goals this year like he always does."

Owen will get his chance to make his Bernabeu debut when he takes part in tonight's exhibition match against the Pumas from Mexico. He and his England colleague David Beckham will play in the first half only, before flying off to hook up with the rest of Eriksson's squad to prepare for Saturday's match in Austria.

Owen's lively display went down well with the Spanish press, and also seems to have won over the Real manager Jose Antonio Camacho, who it is widely thought was sceptical about signing him. Camacho did admit, however, to having doubts on whether to pitch Owen into the action at such an early stage.

"I was not sure whether to play him or not because of the language problem and also because he has just arrived here and it is hard to adapt," Camacho said.

"In the end, I think we could have scored another goal, but now he is definitely another squad member."

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