Owen's invention lifts Liverpool

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The Independent Online

Michael Owen hit one of his wonder strikes but Liverpool still wasted a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Benfica in the Carlsberg Belfast Challenge yesterday. The result earned them the trophy on goal difference but two fine goals from the former Manchester United winger Karel Poborsky took the shine off their success.

Michael Owen hit one of his wonder strikes but Liverpool still wasted a two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw with Benfica in the Carlsberg Belfast Challenge yesterday. The result earned them the trophy on goal difference but two fine goals from the former Manchester United winger Karel Poborsky took the shine off their success.

Owen underlined his value to Liverpool, and England, and his goal served notice of how much he is worth with the opening rounds of his new contract negotiations underway. It came after a first-half diving header from Titi Camara.

But when Benfica finally woke up, Poborsky exposed worrying holes in Liverpool's defence with a spectacular strike of his own, and then a jinking run from halfway before slipping home the equaliser. Both goals came in an 11-minute period in the second half.

Liverpool demonstrated the options now available to their manager, Gérard Houllier, particularly in midfield. They opted for a different system from the one employed in the 4-0 win over Glentoran on Thursday, with Jamie Carragher in a holding midfield role in a trio with Gary McAllister and Dietmar Hamann, with Camara wide on the left with Owen the lone striker.

The French defender Djimi Traore filled in well at right back, giving Poborsky a rough ride, which delighted the Liverpool fans among the 11,000 crowd who jeered the Czech winger every time he touched the ball.

Camara's goal came after 10 minutes when he converted a right wing cross from Vladimir Smicer.

The Portuguese side had new signing Pierre van Hooijdonk up front, but it was Owen's pace at the other end that was the biggest problem for them. He delighted the thousands of young fans who had greeted his every move with pop star acclaim when he hooked home a stunning volley after a powerful right wing run from Markus Babbel.

Nick Barmby came on as substitute for Smicer on the right, before Poborsky got the first of his goals after 64 minutes with a stunning scissor kick of his own.

He struck again after 73 minutes, being allowed to run from the halfway line through a mass of defenders before cleverly creating space for his shot in the box, placing the effort wide of a diving Sander Westerveld.

Liverpool had further cause to worry with the news Robbie Fowler is likely to miss the first five games of the Premiership season after the injury he suffered during the pre-season friendly against Glentoran.

The Liverpool captain had specialist treatment and a scan on his damaged right ankle yesterday which confirmed he has strained ligaments. The Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier, said: "The injury was to the same ankle that Robbie has needed to have the two operations on. He is very unlucky and I sympathise with him after what he has been through these past couple of seasons. It's a big blow."

Fears that he would need a third operation on the same ankle have been dispelled.

The Everton defender Abel Xavier has had his appeal against a nine-month Uefa suspension rejected. The Portuguese international had the ban imposed after his vigorous complaints against the injury-time penalty awarded against him that put France into the final of Euro 2000. The Everton chief executive, Michael Dunford, and Xavier had travelled to Geneva in a bid to overturn the ban.

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