Owen's fitness boost for England

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The Independent Football

It would not seem right if England did not have the odd player missing with a broken metatarsal, but, apart from the absence of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Bridge, Sven Goran Eriksson is likely to have a full-strength squad from which to select his team to play Wales in a World Cup qualifying match at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The England coach's main worry this week has been the fitness of Michael Owen, who aggravated a back problem playing for Real Madrid at the weekend. However, the news from the England camp was more encouraging yesterday. A scan having shown no serious problem, Owen did some light jogging and stretching in the morning with Gary Lewin, the England physio, and was able to join the other 22 players for the second half of the training session at Carrington.

Owen, who had said he would know by today whether he would be fit to play, is expected to train again this morning. If he comes through the session with no further problems he will be in contention for a place in the starting line-up.

While Jermain Defoe staked a claim for a regular place in the England attack with his performance in England's last match, a 2-1 victory away to Poland, it is hard to imagine Eriksson dropping his most consistent goalscorer if he is fit. Owen has not had many opportunities with Real this season, but he has scored regularly for England throughout his career, with 27 goals to show for his 63 international appearances.

Although only two of those goals have come in his last eight England appearances, Owen has often come good when it mattered. He has also had plenty of experience playing alongside Wayne Rooney, who is back in the squad after injury. While Rooney and Owenmay not form a natural strike partnership, Rooney and Defoe have never played together for the national side. If the availability of three strikers gives Eriksson a welcome selection problem in attack, he has a greater embarrassment of riches in central defence, even without Jonathan Woodgate, who would be pressing for at least a place in the squad but for the thigh muscle injury that is keeping him out of Real Madrid's team.

Rio Ferdinand is back after his eight-month ban for missing a drugs test, while Sol Campbell returns after missing the early part of the season through injury. Eriksson believes Ferdinand and Campbell were the best central defensive unit at the 2002 World Cup and they are joined in the squad by Ledley King and John Terry, who did an excellent job in the absence of the first-choice pair in the first two World Cup qualifiers.

"That creates a good problem for us," Eriksson said. "We have four very good central defenders. Who's going to play I don't know. But it's very good for England."

Despite Eriksson's insistence that he would see the squad in training this week before selecting his team, it would be a major surprise if Ferdinand and Campbell did not start. Eriksson is particularly enthused by the return of Ferdinand, who has already settled well into the Manchester United team following his absence. "From what I can see he is very hungry," Eriksson said. "I think United are very happy to have him back. He's a leader. He was the captain against Fenerbahce, which was nice to see. He brings calm to the back line."

The one area where England's resources remain stretched is in midfield, where the absence of Bridge, who had formed a good partnership ahead of Ashley Cole on the left side, is likely to open up a place for Joe Cole, Owen Hargreaves or Phil Neville. Cole would provide the most attacking option, but Eriksson admires Hargreaves' versatility and workrate and the Bayern Munich man may win the vote. Nicky Butt is likely to take Gerrard's place in the centre.

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