Walcott can be England's 'ace in pack', says Gerrard

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The Independent Football

Theo Walcott was officially welcomed into the England fold by Steven Gerrard yesterday, who applauded the gamble taken by Sven Goran Eriksson on the untested teenager but confessed he knew little about the Arsenal forward whose inclusion in the 23-man squad for the World Cup generated enthusiasm and disbelief in equal measure.

The 17-year-old will meet his international colleagues for the first time on Monday when Eriksson's élite head to Portugal for a five-day training camp, with the Liverpool midfielder insisting his presence will be welcomed by the squad's more senior contingent. Gerrard, who guided Wayne Rooney through his first England experience in 2003, said: "I was surprised but there is a lot of experience and talent in the squad, so I don't think it's crazy to take him. He could be our ace in the pack.

"A manager has to take a risk at times," added Gerrard. "I haven't seen anything of him at all but clearly he's an exciting player."

It is Gerrard, however, who could profit most from the uncertainty surrounding Rooney and Michael Owen's participation in Germany if he is given licence to replicate the role that has yielded 20 goals for Liverpool this season.

"I would love to play in an attacking role for England but we'll see what the manager decides," he said. "I haven't had that chance too often but if he lines up with five in midfield then maybe I'll get that opportunity."

Owen, however, last night insisted he is "feeling fine" despite concerns he has not yet made a full recovery from a foot injury suffered last December.

Owen said: "I'm feeling fine. I've been out for quite a while but I've been training in amongst all that. It's not been such a 'get fit quick' campaign with me [as with Rooney]. I'm just getting over the inbetweeny bits where you get a bit of discomfort after games."

Gerrard's midfield partner at Anfield, Xabi Alonso, is struggling to be fit for the FA Cup final. The Spaniard damaged ankle ligaments at Portsmouth on Sunday and will be assessed by medical staff today.

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