Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 20 News List

England's Steve McClaren faces familiar problems

AP , LONDON

England captain John Terry arrives for a team training session wearing a protective face mask in London Colney, Hertfordshire, on Tuesday. Terry recently suffered a fractured cheek bone.

PHOTO: AFP

England coach Steve McClaren is in a familiar position heading into Saturday's crucial European Championship qualifier against Estonia.

As with last month's matches against Israel and Russia, McClaren has to contend with injuries to key players, tough decisions over who to play up front and concern over the fitness of Michael Owen.

Owen scored three goals last month to lead England to a pair of 3-0 wins, but has since had surgery on a stomach problem and only returned to action for his club as a substitute on Sunday.

The Newcastle striker, whose 40 international goals place him fourth on England's all-time list, scored to seal a 3-2 Premier League win over Everton and his importance was underlined further when Dean Ashton and Andrew Johnson withdrew from the squad.

Owen had only just returned from injury before starring in last month's games and is confident of repeating the trick.

"It's feeling good and I'm available for both teams I represent," Owen said. "I don't see why I can't play against Estonia. The surgeon tells me you can't go wrong in terms of the operation."

McClaren responded to Newcastle's concerns that Owen may not yet be fit to play Estonia on Saturday and at Russia just four days later by saying he would take no risks.

However, he said that Owen was sure to start if England's doctors ruled that the striker has recovered.

"He looks very sharp," McClaren said.

Owen trained on Tuesday, although defender Wes Brown returned to Manchester United for treatment on a knee injury and Sol Campbell sat out training with an Achilles problem.

Injuries to Ashton and Johnson at the weekend mean that McClaren again has limited options as he seeks a partner for a rehabilitating Owen.

Ashton was ruled out for six weeks on Tuesday after scans showed he had sprained a medial knee ligament in Saturday's 1-0 loss at Aston Villa.

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