Sam Wallace: Rooney delivers fearless testament of youth to soften up Argentinians for Owen's wise head

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The Independent Football

To emphasise his argument, Michael Owen rounded upon one of the most senior and - to put it kindly - least mobile of the veteran reporters in the England press pack. He could scarcely have made his point more bluntly. "Even you could play alongside Wayne Rooney," Owen said. "You might not score a goal but you could play with him."

As a rebuttal to the arguments that Rooney and Owen are two incompatible forwards it was memorable and witty but nothing like as forceful as the point the pair had made an hour earlier on the pitch of the Stade de Geneve. In the 3-2 victory over Argentina, Rooney and Owen gloried in what they both do best. One dragged England back into contention through sheer force of will and then, when the critical time arrived, the other man's goals finished off the opposition.

Sven Goran Eriksson does not joke often but one can only assume he was not being entirely serious when he said that Owen "can sleep for 89 minutes but a goal will come". It was actually 86 minutes before Owen intervened and up until then it was difficult to decide whether his virtual anonymity was his fault or a result of a lack of service.

Number 34 and 35 of Owen's goals for England may not have been as memorable as his strike against Argentina in St-Etienne seven years earlier but they were a powerful reminder of his breathtaking capacity to change a game regardless of his influence up until that point. Rooney's contribution will always be different; he was marauding through the Argentinian defence, hefting aside markers, and had scored, when it was still difficult to remember an Owen touch.

The difference between them was eloquently put by Owen, who will only be 26 in December, when he described the changes he has been through since the 1998 World Cup. The "fearlessness of youth" was the way in which he summarised Rooney's ability to slice a defence in two, to play his own way despite the experience and the reputations around him.

"He can rise to an occasion, he's a big-game player," Owen said. "You know he is going to pull a rabbit out somewhere because he is just so confident in himself. I still have that fearlessness of youth but you lose it a little bit. You are more aware of things. If I give the ball away, it hurts my pride. I don't know why. Five or 10 years ago, you lose the ball and you think, 'Well it doesn't matter, next time I'm going to beat everyone and score'.

"You become more of a rounded player and think you have to contribute in other areas. As far as my instinct in front of goal, I'll never lose that. We dovetail with each other really well. Every one of his strengths is totally opposite to my strengths. When you are opposites, you tend to gel quite quickly. I had a slow start in Euro 2004 but he was on fire from day one. I clear out of the way for him because he is better than me in the hole. That's just what you get from playing with each other."

Rooney paid tribute to Owen - "probably the littlest man in the team and somehow he manages to score that many headers" - and Peter Crouch as well who he said gave England a "different option". There is no option, however, like the Rooney option. He was inches from chipping the goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri before Owen's equaliser and, when England finally took the lead, won two towering headers in midfield in the dying seconds. By the end, as he raised his first to the crowd, it wasn't hard to see what Owen meant by "the fearlessness of youth".