Sven Makes Plans Without Owen
Owen was put through his paces during his public training session ahead of Newcastle's 3-0 win over West Brom and he put on a decent show. The England striker has been sidelined since New Year's Eve with a fractured metatarsal and rumours surrounding his fitness, or lack of, for this summer's showpiece have been widespread ever since.
Newcastle have constantly insisted that Owen will be fit to make the finals in Germany but Freddy Shepherd must have lingering doubts about his £17m signing. By all means play him if he is fit, but Shepherd has a poor return on money spent this campaign, and the last thing he wants is his star striker put on the field as a gamble.
But with Premiership games now running out, it is doubtful that England will now see a 100% match-fit Owen at the World Cup finals - and the time has come for Sven-Goran Eriksson to ponder his options minus the talismanic striker.
We all watched with frustration four years ago in Japan as David Beckham struggled through England's clashes up to their elimination at the quarter-finals stage. And although he scored the memorable penalty winner against Argentina, it was clear that Beckham - also the victim of a metatarsal injury - was a shadow of his former self.
So, what will Eriksson learn from four years ago? He must ponder an alternative line-up should Owen, as feared, fails to return to full-match fitness.