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Wednesday, February 11, 1998 Published at 14:27 GMT


Red hot Owen to pepper Chile?
image: [ Professional glory is replacing boyhood dreams for Owen ]
Professional glory is replacing boyhood dreams for Owen

Liverpool's Michael Owen is taking his first steps at senior level on an International career that looks set to provide a short cut to this summer's world cup in France.

As BBC Radio Merseyside's Mike Hughes reports Owen's appearance for at least some part of this evening's friendly with Chile has been guaranteed by Glenn Hoddle, so he's assured of becoming the youngest England player this century.

Owen's inclusion will eclipse the previous record set by Manchester United legend Duncan Edwards, who was 18 years and 183 days when he played in the 7-2 demolition of Scotland in April 1955. Owen has set the premiership alight this season with a series of outstanding displays that have underlined his match-winning capabilities and spotlight's him as perhaps the greatest natural goalscorer of his generation.

Glen Hoddle believes that Owen is an exceptional talent "I can only compare him with a Welshman I saw at 17, Ryan Giggs, I can remember coming back from a Manchester Utd match and saying that I'd seen a special player".

14 premiership goals so far this season highlights his wonderful talent in front of goal...but that ability allied to blistering pace and an ever improving all round game, suggests that he has the necessary requirements to succeed at international level.

But with the world cup only a matter of months away, Glen Hoddle refuses to get carried away with exactly what the future could hold for player and country, "Up front is the area of the pitch where there's the biggest gap between club and international football, and the jury still has to be out on Michael because of his inexperience. He hasn't played enough European football for example", he said. "In five year's time, by the time of the 2002 world cup, he will have had all that and we'll know for sure, but my main concern at the moment is the short term. I've got to know whether he's right for this tournament. If he's not he won't go, but if he can prove that he can do it, he will."

Owen is well aware of the weight of history he'll carry onto the Wembley turf this evening - but is taking it all in his stride. He said "The Duncan Edwards record is something which has been talked about and it would be a great achievement to beat that, But if I'm selected I'll just try and do my best."

Expectations can be a huge burden on such young shoulders, yet few people believe that Owen doesn't possess the sort of steely determination and mental resilience to stand up to football at the very top level.

His calmness in front of goal has brought praise from Gary Lineker, an acknowledged master of the one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper. Lineker admits that Owen is a much better finisher than he was at 18. "He's streets ahead of where I was at a similar age...and enjoys the pressure of one-on-ones with goalkeepers, his extraordinary pace will always give him these sort of opportunities."

Some pundits are even suggesting that far from the Shearer/Sheringham axis being the number one choice for England in France, Shearer and Owen would be an even better pairing. Indeed Owen has now superceded team mate Robbie Fowler on the world cup short list.

The path to international glory is littered with broken dreams and broken hearts but there is sufficient evidence to believe that Michael Owen won't join the long list of young footballers who failed to deliver on their early promise.

Michael Owen has the world of football at, and in, his feet - whether he'll get the call for this year's world cup could depend on how he performs in his debut against Chile tonight.

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