Old familiar foot problem plagues Eriksson again

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The Independent Football

As Sven Goran Eriksson headed into what could prove to be the biggest year of his managerial career last night, he will have paused to curse his luck and reach for his trusty medical encyclopaedia.

After his experiences with England's 2004 European Championship campaign and their 2002 World Cup challenge, that tome would, no doubt, have fallen open at the letter "M" for metatarsal.

In breaking his fifth metatarsal bone in a challenge with Paul Robinson, the England goalkeeper, while playing for his club Newcastle United against Tottenham Hotspur, Michael Owen was continuing a modern tradition begun by David Beckham in the run-up to the 2002 World Cup finals, continued by Gary Neville and Danny Murphy and climaxed by Wayne Rooney, whose bad break came against Portugal in the quarter-finals of the 2004 European Championship. Steve Gerrard then suffered a similar problem during qualifying for Germany.

"If there's any consolation I've got plenty of time before the World Cup," Owen said, and added that he did not expect to miss the finals. "Not from what all the experts are telling me. There's no quick ways, it's two-and-a-half months or three months, I don't know what it is but it's the same for everyone. Loads of people have had it done - Rooney, Beckham, Gary Neville and Stevie Gerrard."

Owen's relatively upbeat response to his latest injury setback was in stark contrast to that of his manager, Graeme Souness, and he is clearly taking heart from the fact that Beckham made it to the 2002 finals even though he was injured as late as the April before the event in the Far East.

Eriksson could well do without any such worries. "It's very bad luck for him and for Newcastle United," the Swede said. "Michael is a fantastic striker and a very important player for his club and for England. I hope that he returns to fitness as soon as possible."

The Swede's first important act of 2006 may be to order copious quantities of cotton wool to wrap up Owen and Rooney up for safekeeping.

Those Bad Breaks: Metatarsal misery tour

WAYNE ROONEY: Injured in 2004 European Championship quarter-final for England against Portugal.

DAVID BECKHAM: Bone broken in tackle in Man Utd's Champions' League quarter-final in April 2002, shortly before World Cup.

GARY NEVILLE: Injured in United's 2002 Champions' League semi-final.

STEVEN GERRARD: Missed World Cup qualifiers after break against United in September 2004.