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  Euro Stars    Michael Owen


Owen's shoulders bear weight of England hopes
Michael Owen
England are counting on striker Michael Owen shaking off one of his worst seasons on record when they take their title hopes to Euro 2004 next month.

Hampered by injury, a loss of form and speculation that Liverpool's indifferent season could trigger his Anfield departure, Owen finished the season with 21 goals for club and country.

The tally fell worryingly short of the season average of 31 goals which Liverpool and England fans had been accustomed to over the previous three years.

Owen has been the mainstay of England's attack since bursting on to the biggest stage at the 1998 World Cup with a wonder strike against Argentina, having already become the youngest player of the last century to play for England.

He played his part in Liverpool's victorious League, FA and UEFA cup campaigns in the 2001 treble year and followed up months later with a hat-trick in England's memorable 5-1 win over Germany in a 2002 World Cup qualifier in Munich.

That feat in September was followed three months later by Owen being voted European Footballer of the Year in recognition of his many achievements.

However, bad luck with injuries, which have been another hallmark of his career, followed him to the 2002 World Cup finals, where he was not fully fit but still managed to score twice.

The past two seasons have provided little for Liverpool fans to celebrate, aside from a League Cup final win over Manchester United in which Owen scored, with the lucrative Champions League proving to be a mirage for Gerard Houllier's side.

England, who have awarded the 24-year-old Owen more than 50 caps, have enjoyed greater success from his lightning pace, deadly accuracy and ability to shoot with either foot.

Playing at Euro 2004 as group winners, England relied on Owen to secure victory against Slovakia (twice) and Liechtenstein (twice) during qualifying and badly need him to keep that scoring regularity in Portugal.

Ominously for their fans, England have not won a match without Owen being in the team since fellow striker Alan Shearer retired from international football after Euro 2000.

However the fact that Owen is a natural finisher -- he once scored more than 150 goals in a season as a schoolboy to break a record set by Ian Rush -- means he is always capable of scoring.

The question facing England and Owen is whether he can find his lethal touch at the finals.
- Trevor Huggins




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