Owen crucial to England's hopes, says Rooney

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The Independent Football

Wayne Rooney has acknowledged that a return to fitness for Michael Owen will be crucial if England are to have a chance of lifting the World Cup this summer. The Newcastle striker has been out for three months after breaking a metatarsal, but he is expected to be back playing in three weeks, giving him around half a dozen games in which to recover his match fitness before the tournament begins.

"If you look at Michael Owen, you would say he is a proven goalscorer," Rooney said. "It would be a big disappointment for everybody if he's not fully fit, but hopefully he can put it [the injury] behind him and play some games to get back his sharpness."

The dream for England is that they recapture the sparkle that looked like carrying England to Euro 2004 before Rooney himself was a victim of a fractured metatarsal.

Given that Owen is only 26, it seems remarkable that Rooney can claim to have been inspired by him, but he spoke yesterday of his first World Cup memory, of watching the then 18-year-old in France 98. "I was 12," Rooney said. "I was sitting at my nan's watching England v Argentina when he scored that goal. I remember going out and playing and pretending to be him."

Rooney was even younger than Owen when he broke into the England side, making his debut as a 17-year-old against Australia, and he gives Steven Gerrard great credit for helping him to feel at home. "I was very young," he said, "and it was quite intimidating coming to dinner or whatever and seeing all the older players. With Stevie being from Liverpool himself, he got me out of my room. We didn't do anything special; just went and played pool and table-tennis, which stopped me being bored."

Boredom, he admits, can be a problem at major tournaments, despite the Football Association's efforts to provide distractions such as games consoles and DVD players. However, in the testosterone-fuelled football world Rooney might be advised to stick to the PlayStation, or choose his films more carefully.

"The last film I saw was Cinderella Man," Rooney revealed. "It was really good. I watched it with my girlfriend. There were a few tissues coming out. I'm a normal lad and it was a bit sad at the end."

Perhaps sobbing along with John Terry and Gary Neville to Bambi or Love Story would be great for team spirit, but it's probably just as well that gritty Yorkshireman David Batty is no longer in the squad.