Owen fitness test 'not a worry' for England, says Grip

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The Independent Online

Tord Grip, the England assistant coach, "hopes and thinks" Michael Owen will be fit for the World Cup and claims "it is not a big worry" if he plays only one more game for Newcastle this season.

The 26-year-old striker - out of action since breaking a bone in his foot against Tottenham in December - had feared his hopes of recovering in time to be included in Sven Goran Eriksson's squad for Germany had been dashed when he was told he needed another operation.

But Grip and the England coaching staff are confident Owen is back on track. Eriksson's right-hand man said: "We all hope and think that Michael will be ready," Grip said. "He is naturally a very fit boy and, of course, has a fantastic record when it comes to World Cups."

Grip added: "Sven and Michael have spoken regularly over the last few weeks. Sven has also spoken to the staff at Newcastle."

Owen may not be fit until Newcastle's final game of the season, against Chelsea on 7 May, and England's provisional squad is named a day later. But Grip said: "That is not a big worry, I must say. The worry is if he gets a reaction after his first game. He is a proven goalscorer and you always need that in a team. It would have been ideal if he had played some games, but Michael's not worried.

"David Beckham was still injured when he came with us in 2002. Michael will be fit when we get together. He will be in full training, for perhaps two or three weeks, before his first game back and will play matches in training."

There is still time for players around the fringes of the squad to impress with the likes of Jermain Defoe and Darren Bent still hopeful of securing their place, Grip insisted. But he would only say: "We've seen these players all season and they have all scored goals and done well for their clubs. I can't give away too many secrets now and Sven already has a good idea of who he sees being in the squad, but in football you just never know. What we can say is that we are fully aware of how everyone is playing."

Grip was also confident that England have the players "to deal" with Ronaldinho should the brilliant Brazilian stand in their way again this summer.

The Barcelona forward scored the winner when England were knocked out of the last World Cup, and Grip conceded he remains the most dangerous player Eriksson's side could face in Germany. "He is a world-class player. I like his approach," he said.

"He loves his football, which is great for all the kids, too. The World Cup is about taking football all over the globe and his approach is something children can enjoy and learn from. Having said that, I'm confident that, if we come up against Brazil, we have the players to deal with him."

Meanwhile, the search for the new England manager has come down to a shortlist of three or four candidates, the Football Association's board will be told today. The nominations panel has whittled down a list of hopefuls to the final few, and these will be interviewed before a final decision is made.

It is understood that the board members will not be told any names today. But the shortlist for Eriksson's successor is thought to include the former Celtic coach Martin O'Neill and Steve McClaren - the Middlesbrough manager who is also the current coach's assistant.

The FA board will also be updated with the latest developments regarding Wembley - and discussions will centre on the action that can be taken to try to recover penalty payments from builders Multiplex.

The construction firm insist changes to the design mean they should not be liable for the £140,000-a-day charges imposed for over-running their deadline. The FA and Wembley claim any changes have been very minor, and legal action is set to ensue.

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