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Michael Owen hat-trick delights Sir Alex Ferguson

Manchester United striker Michael Owen
Owen will be pushing for a place in United's line-up at the weekend

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson hailed Michael Owen after the striker's hat-trick in their 3-1 Champions League win at Wolfsburg.

United secured top spot in group B with three fine finishes from the 29-year-old, who still harbours hopes of making England's 2010 World Cup squad.

"It was a fantastic performance," said Ferguson. "Michael's finishing and positional play were superb.

"He has proved his worth and I'm delighted with his performance."

Playing with a makeshift defence in Germany, United - who had already clinched a place in the last 16 - needed at least a draw to finish top of their group and were on the back foot for much of the match.

However, playing their counter-attack game, Owen nodded in a fine opener from Nani's cross on half-time before tucking in two late goals after Edin Dzeko had equalised for the hosts.

The hat-trick capped a fine showing from the former Liverpool striker, who has now scored seven times for United since his summer arrival, despite often being a substitute.

"Obviously, in some games recently we have only played with one striker and Wayne Rooney has been it. Against Wolfsburg we used a different system," added the United boss.

"I made the point some weeks ago that Owen's training performances have improved steadily. I have had no worries about him.

"The evidence of a player is always on the field and Michael has given us that."

Owen has been a fringe player at United this season, starting only eight games in all competitions so far and making 12 appearances as a substitute.

Ongoing injury problems and a relative lack of match action has led to Owen being continually ignored for an international call-up by England boss Fabio Capello, who has given the striker only one cap - as a substitute in the 1-0 friendly defeat by France in Paris on 26 March, 2008 - during his two-year tenure in the role.

The Italian has admitted that the door remains open for Owen, who has scored 40 international goals in 89 caps, but that "he has to play well and score goals".

OWEN GOAL RECORD
Manchester United 2009/10: 7 goals in 8 (+ 12 sub) appearances
Newcastle United 2008/09: 10 goals in 24 (8) appearances
Newcastle United 2007/08: 13 goals in 27 (6) appearances
England 1998 - Present: 40 goals in 89 appearances
World Cup record: 4 goals in 12 appearances

The player admitted that Tuesday's hat-trick, his first since notching three for Newcastle in a 4-2 victory at West Ham in December 2005, was likely to put him in the media spotlight, and stated: "Me getting three goals will probably grab the headlines but it was a great team performance."

Indeed, Wednesday's papers were awash with speculation over Owen's England future, with most suggesting his showing in Germany had sent out an emphatic message to Capello ahead of the World Cup in South Africa next summer.

However, despite seeing the odds on him being selected for Capello's 2010 squad shorten to 5-4 with bookmakers, Owen remains odds-on not to make the plane to South Africa at 4-7.

Beyond first-choice strike-duo of Rooney and Aston Villa's Emile Heskey, Capello has called-up Tottenham pair Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch, Sunderland's Darren Bent, Heskey's Villa team-mate Gabriel Agbonlahor and West Ham's Carlton Cole ahead of Owen for England's successful World Cup qualifying campaign.

A knee ligament injury will keep Cole sidelined until the new year but Owen may also face competition from the likes of Bobby Zamora, who was backed for a national call-up by his manager at Fulham, Roy Hodgson, after the striker scored his sixth of the season in the 1-0 win over Sunderland on Sunday.

606: DEBATE
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Whilst Owen's contribution in attack delighted United boss Ferguson, he was equally pleased with the performance of his makeshift defence in Germany.

Midfielder's Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher started at the back with full-back Patrice Evra, and were put under heavy pressure early on.

Carrick almost conceded a penalty and Wolfsburg missed two headers early on but Ferguson was relieved to see his defence hold out.

"If Wolfsburg had gone in front it would have made it very difficult for us," he conceded.

"In that instance I do not know whether we would have persisted with the system we used. I just felt it was the best way to keep them out because Wolfsburg are a good attacking team.

"I felt we would get chances on the counter-attack and thankfully that is what happened."

United travelled to Germany without 14 senior players, 13 of which were injured and the other, Ryan Giggs, was rested.

It meant that Ferguson was forced to draft five youngsters from his B list of Champions League players including defender Oliver Gill.

With attentions now turning to the domestic campaign, with the visit of Aston Villa on Saturday, Ferguson will be buoyed by the return of some of his missing stars.

Strikers Dimitar Berbatov and Rooney are expected to recover from injury, Ryan Giggs should play, while centre-half Nemanja Vidic has overcome flu.

"Our defence will be Fletcher, Carrick, Vidic and Evra," revealed the Scot.



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see also
Wolfsburg 1-3 Man Utd
08 Dec 09 |  Europe
Tuesday football as it happened
08 Dec 09 |  Football
Champions League photos
08 Dec 09 |  Football
Man Utd draft in youngster Gill
08 Dec 09 |  Man Utd
Capello opts against Owen recall
08 Aug 09 |  Internationals
Capello leaves door open for Owen
31 Mar 09 |  Internationals


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