MICHAEL OWEN has admitted that life has been hard since being labelled England's wonderkid, but insisted that he is not injury prone.

Owen is 5/1 to score the opener tonight in England's friendly game against Spain and 33/1 to grab a hat-trick - click for details.

The 21-year-old Liverpool star shot to fame with an uncanny eye for goal and phenomenal scoring record at youth level, but really hit the headlines in the 1998 World Cup finals, when he scored one of the goals of the tournament against Argentina.

However, life since has been testing with a recurring hamstring problem, and the youngster has even seen his club role threatened by the wealth of world class strikers at Anfield.

"I think I've learned a lot about the side of the game when it's not going so well. I don't think anybody can match those expectations that there were of me the whole time," Owen stated at a press conference before England's friendly with Spain.

"I always knew what would happen after France 98. I always knew that I would have an injury.

"Even during the tournament, I said I'd have an injury or a dip in form and that would be the truest test of my character.

"That has happened to me quite early in my career. But I feel good that it has happened as I know how it can happen and how to deal with it.

"Injuries have crippled me in a way. What can you do when you get injured?

"You're sitting there, twiddling your thumbs and just waiting for yourself to get better so you can prove something.

"I had a flying start to the season and then got a freak bang on the head and was out for five games. After that it's been stop-start all season.

"But the last thing I want is to be labelled injury-prone. It's the worst thing you could be known as."

Owen recently provided a glimmer of his former self with two vital goals in Liverpool's tie against Roma in the Uefa Cup - pouncing on a mistake to slot home his first, and then converting with a near post header.

However, the marksman then found himself playing no part in Liverpool's Worthington Cup final victory over Birmingham - with manager Gerard Houllier leaving the youngster on the bench.

"In Rome I was on top of the world, but then I was disappointed over the cup final. Of course I wanted to play.

"It was the opposite way round for Emile. He didn't play in Rome and played in the final.

"If I'm training and playing and injury-free, with no more freak injuries or hamstring problems, I've no doubt that I will be in the Liverpool team and playing for England.

"This a fresh start for everybody. We've all got the opportunity to try to impress the new coach."

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