Michael Owen is out of England's Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia after sustaining a thigh strain in the 1-0 friendly win over Austria.
Star striker suffers thigh strain in victory over AustriaEngland will be without star striker Michael Owen for the Euro 2008 qualifier against Croatia on Wednesday after he suffered a thigh strain in the 1-0 friendly win over Austria. The Newcastle forward limped off after 33 minutes at the Ernst Happel Stadion with initial reports suggesting he could be facing up to a month on the sidelines. A 44th minute Peter Crouch goal gave England the victory they desired as they warmed up for Wednesday and Steve McClaren's side produced an effective, if uninspiring, display throughout. Austria had started brightly but England then dominated and could have gone in front on 32 minutes when Owen was denied by a good save from goalkeeper Alex Manninger. However, it was to be the Newcastle forward's final contribution to the game as he was immediately replaced by Jermain Defoe. England, though, then took a deserved lead when Crouch met a David Beckham corner on the stroke of half-time to score his 11th international goal in 13 starts. After the interval Crouch could have made it two when he headed at Manninger, but Austria never truly threatened. Defoe and Crouch are likely to be England's forward pairing against Croatia with Owen joining Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey on the sidelines.
Hollow victoryMcClaren knows the victory will be one of the most hollow imaginable if Israel or, far less likely, Macedonia, cannot do him a huge favour on Saturday. The under-fire England boss can only hope all the ill fortune balances itself out in Tel Aviv, with Israel needing to resist Russia to at least give England a fighting chance of reaching the finals. Owen had just been responsible for England's first shot on target too, a slick effort which involved Steven Gerrard and Crouch before he saw his first-time shot superbly tipped over by Manninger. The former Arsenal keeper was only on the pitch due to a nasty, but accidental, collision involving Crouch that left Austria's first-choice Jurgen Macho flat out. Macho was unconscious as he hit the deck after connecting with Crouch's shoulder as the pair tried to intercept Beckham's angled ball into the box. There were also reports Macho had swallowed his tongue, although happily the former Sunderland man appeared to be okay as he was stretchered off. Joleon Lescott was assured enough at the heart of England's defence to suggest he will not let anyone down against Croatia and his stout work ensured young goalkeeper Scott Carson was not provided with too stiff a test on his debut. Lampard was one of the more impressive England performers, although there was enough slackness within the midfield partnership to suggest Gareth Barry, who replaced Gerrard at the break, will be required against somewhat more powerful opposition on England's next outing, which McClaren remains convinced will mean so much.
BeckhamOn his familiar right-wing station, Beckham used his energy economically. There were occasional bursts of speed but no-one could seriously expect the former captain to be at full tilt after a month of nothing more than exhibition matches. It is a side issue of the uncertainty surrounding England's short-term future that Beckham might reach 99 caps and no more. In contrast, Ashley Young is at the very start of his international career and it was the half-time debutant's cross Crouch should have buried for England's second, not long after another substitute, Wes Brown, had been lucky not to concede a penalty when he dragged down the dangerous Andreas Ivanschitz. Beckham departed after an hour and his replacement David Bentley was spared the incessant booing which accompanied his first cap against Israel a couple of months ago. But Bentley knows, as does McClaren, all his players and everyone at the Football Association, the boo boys will be out in force at Wembley should it all go wrong for England this weekend.
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