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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 June 2006, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
England without Michael Owen

By Jonathan Stevenson

Michael Owen in agony after injuring his knee
Michael Owen's absence could cost England World Cup glory

England's World Cup squad was always one serious injury away from a potential disaster.

From the moment Sven-Goran Eriksson revealed his chosen 23 on 8 May, the lightweight nature of his selection of strikers has been a constant concern.

The last thing Eriksson needed was one of his proven stars limping out of the tournament in the relatively meaningless group game against Sweden.

But when Michael Owen crawled off the pitch and out of the World Cup just two minutes in, the folly of Eriksson's selection became all too clear once more.

BBC Sport wonders how the Swede can pick up the pieces and get England's bid back on track.


Owen's injury leaves just three strikers in the England squad - Wayne Rooney, Peter Crouch and Theo Walcott.

Thanks to a truly remarkable recovery from a broken metatarsal and a hugely encouraging 69 minutes against Sweden, Rooney's will be the first name inked onto Eriksson's teamsheet to face Ecuador on Sunday.

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Colonel Red

But who will partner him? Indeed, will he even get a partner?

If Eriksson does plump for two strikers, Rooney will be joined in attack by Crouch, who was only left out against the Swedes so he did not pick up a suspension for the Ecuador game.

When Crouch came on for Owen, he and Rooney played well together, with Rooney dropping deep to link up with the midfield and Crouch fulfilling the role of targetman with some success.

It could be argued that even if he was fit, Owen would not deserve a place in the first team on recent displays, so evident was the 26-year-old's lack of form.

Verdict: Eriksson's faith in Crouch is well-documented and the Liverpool man may well get the nod.


Though his years spent in Serie A have essentially made Eriksson a set-in-stone exponent of 4-4-2, he does not have to play with two up front.

There is precedent for Eriksson dispensing with his favoured formation and plumping for one striker supported by an attacking midfielder.

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Steel City Spurs

Against Hungary in the pre-World Cup warm-up he used Steven Gerrard in a much more attacking role, playing as the link man between a striker and the midfielders.

He could even use Joe Cole in such a position, with the Chelsea man flying after his wonder goal against the Swedes.

This would allow Eriksson to keep Owen Hargreaves in the holding midfield role and give his other midfield men more licence to get forward against the Ecuadorians.

Verdict: Not beyond the realms of possibility, with the brilliant Gerrard in the hole supporting Rooney.


If he was to ring up Jose Mourinho for advice, the Chelsea manager might well suggest that Eriksson follows the Premiership champions' route to success.

Two titles in successive years have been based on a 4-3-3 formation with a holding player (Claude Makelele) and two attacking midfielders who can play as wingers or tuck in to make five in midfield.

England midfielders Joe Cole and Steven Gerrard
Cole (left) and Gerrard could be used in more attacking midfield roles

If he looks closely, Eriksson appears to have the players at his disposal to do just that.

Hargreaves would play in the holding role, with Frank Lampard and David Beckham as the supporting midfielders in positions they have carried off with some success for their club sides.

He could have Joe Cole as the left-sided forward and Steven Gerrard on the right, both in positions that allow them to attack with vigour and not always have to worry about their defensive duties.

Wayne Rooney would not get isolated because he likes to drop deep and link play anyway, and Cole and Gerrard could be given freedom - as well as Lampard - to join up with him as often as possible.

Verdict: Eriksson took a risk with his squad, but he may choose not to on formation with so much at stake.


It's easy to forget that there is another striker in the England squad.

When Owen's world along with his knee collapsed in Cologne on Tuesday, it seemed the perfect opportunity for Eriksson to unleash wildcard Walcott on the World Cup.

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Instead he asked Crouch to play 86 minutes, even though he had chosen to rest the striker for fear of him getting banned.

So, why is Walcott even in Germany?

It is a question Eriksson himself is unable to answer. Even with Rooney struggling for fitness and Owen out of the tournament, Walcott has not been given any time on the pitch.

It is hard to believe the Swede would not have plumped for either Jermain Defoe or Darren Bent had he turned to the bench on Tuesday and seen two proven Premiership goalscorers staring back at him.

Walcott, it seems, has already been consigned to 'gamble that did not pay off'.

Verdict: There is more chance of Eriksson dropping his captain Beckham than starting Walcott.

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