We will rise to greater challenges, says Owen

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Rooney has usurped many of Owen's personal milestones during his three years of trailblazing across the nation's consciousness but the experience of a World Cup and of delivering on the greatest stage of all - twice - is an area where he still remains in the shadow of the Newcastle United forward.

On the same platform where the 19-year-old spoke of his World Cup hopes 24 hours earlier Owen presented his own reality yesterday, and a passionate argument as to why Sven Goran Eriksson is correct to portray England as one of the few genuine contenders at the finals in Germany next summer.

Owen insisted that with players like Rooney "who can provide the magic to open up any team" England have reason to believe, though his case was built on the assertion that when faced with real competition rather than the drudgery of qualification this generation of players have shown they can rise up and deliver.

"Our only intention now is to perform in the World Cup, although the games we have before then will help in terms of confidence and generating a buzz around the country because it is a bit flat at the minute," Owen admitted.

"But if we win every game 4-0 or draw a few and lose a few it won't make a bit of difference to how we perform when we have a proper big, big team in front of us at the World Cup. You will see a different team, a different game, at the World Cup. You've seen it before against France, against Portugal and against Argentina, you always get good performances and good games from us against the top teams; it is completely different to going to some small country in Europe and playing on a bad pitch in miserable weather."

There would have been no flaws in that theory had Owen been talking only about his own World Cup pedigree, but the fact that his goals against Argentina and Brazil were unable to keep England in the past two tournaments suggests the team do not follow his example.

Yet Owen added: "Maybe there is a bit of confidence lacking because we haven't set the world alight in the last few games but if we were playing Brazil tomorrow don't think we would be playing at the level we are at the moment, and that is not because of a lack of effort or passion or desire against other teams - that is just the way football is now. I've seen a change even in the time I've been playing, people raise themselves for certain games. You can't tell me, though, that we would take this form into a game against Brazil, Argentina or Italy. We have proper players who will raise their game for those matches."

Though he is only 25, Owen has the experience of a gnarled veteran and still agonises over the World Cups that delivered individual glory but collective mourning - "I still think about Argentina and Brazil and think, 'What if? If only we'd won on penalties, if only we'd got to half-time with a 1-0 lead' " - while confidence in the future stems from his belief that this England squad is the finest he has encountered.

"In previous tournaments we have had players who are inexperienced or who were past their best," the Newcastle striker said. "But you look around this squad now and all you can see are players who can perform in a World Cup."