Vassell owes his recovery to Owen

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The Independent Football

The England Under-21 striker Darius Vassell yesterday paid tribute to the influence of Michael Owen after fighting back from injury in the same manner as Liverpool's internationally renowned striker.

The England Under-21 striker Darius Vassell yesterday paid tribute to the influence of Michael Owen after fighting back from injury in the same manner as Liverpool's internationally renowned striker.

The Aston Villa forward earned a new four-year contract with his club at the start of this season after successfully fighting back from the same kind of hamstring troubles that have dogged Owen over the last two years.

Vassell, who is expected to lead England's attack in today's European Championship Under-21 qualifier in Finland, said Owen's response to his own problems had acted as a huge spur to him.

"It's definitely helped me to get through my hamstring problems, knowing that Michael Owen had been through the same thing as me," said the 20-year-old. "I watched him come back from all his problems and win his England place again and that inspired me to get fit again. It made me think,'If he can do it, then so can I'. It was great to get the new contract with Villa. They wouldn't have given it to me if I wasn't part of the club's long-term plans. It's a matter of waiting for my chance. There's heavy competition but if I don't make it now then it would be a crime. The manager at Villa has also said that coming away with England can only improve me. If I can perform on a big stage then that will help. The longer I stay in the England Under-21 team, then the better it will be for my career."

The former Liverpool and England midfielder Sammy Lee will be in charge of the team while Howard Wilkinson is with the seniors and has urged his new-look squad to keep on improving. Lee said: "We played well in the first game against Georgia and wanted to get better against the Germans last Friday - and we got that point. It is the same message for Tuesday. This is a big learning curve for the boys.

"We go out to try and win very game but not at all costs and the main thing is to show improvement on the last performance."

The Liverpool defender Stephen Wright is ruled out through suspension for his sending off in the 1-1 draw against the Germans, so Barnsley's former Everton player Carl Regan has been called up.

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