Can Owen snatch the spotlight from Beckham?

David Beckham has hogged the spotlight during England's World Cup campaign, but now it's Michael Owen's turn.

updated: February 25, 2007 09:27 IST
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Tsuna, Japan:

David Beckham has hogged the spotlight during England's World Cup campaign. Now it's Michael Owen's turn. Daily bulletins on Beckham's broken foot and his adoration by local Japanese soccer fans have taken the headlines away from the other players. When Beckham's picture appeared on the huge Sapporo Dome screen in the lineup announcements before Friday's 1-0 victory over Argentina, hundreds of photo flashes went off as the fans tried to get a picture of their idol. The flash guns went off for Owen too, but it didn't match Beckham's welcome. "It's been good to see the fans chasing after the bus to see David because that takes some of the pressure off me," said Owen, who also has a huge Japanese fan club here. Now the Liverpool star has the chance to pull the spotlight in his direction, starting with Wednesday's Group F game against Nigeria. England has a great chance to reach the second round simply by avoiding defeat at Osaka. But coach Sven-Goran Eriksson wants Owen to get England there in style. "What we saw against Argentina was the real Michael Owen, how we want to see him always, not just waiting for the ball up there but dropping down and going left and right," Eriksson said. "As I said to Michael (before the Argentina game), it's very difficult to play against him when you don't know where he is or where he will pop up. If you know he will only stay up there fighting with a big center-half, then it's much easier (for the defense)," Eriksson said. Against Argentina, Owen frequently collected the ball deeper and ran at the defense. It was such a move that ended in his being fouled just inside the area by Mauricio Pocchettino. Beckham fired home the penalty for the only goal of the game. "He did it very well, was everywhere and could have scored twice with a bit of luck," Eriksson said of Owen, who hit the post and also fired just wide from an identical position. "I talked to Michael a little bit about it before the game. I go round to almost all of the players before a match, just saying two words that are important for the game. We were all disappointed with ourselves in the second half (of the 1-1 tie with Sweden). That means Michael Owen as well, but it was not easy to play up there with the only balls coming in the air". Against Argentina, the midfielders pulled the defense out of position and fed Owen with straight passes down the middle. As he proved against Germany in England's 5-1 qualifying round victory in Munich, he has the speed and sense of timing to get clear of the defense without worrying about the offside flag. Not everyone shares Eriksson's confidence in Owen's ability. "Owen can be marked out of a game," said former Inter Milan and Derby County defender Taribo West, who will be facing the Liverpool star on Wednesday. "I played against him last season and he didn't score. He's very fast but no player likes to be man-marked. Coming up against him simply doesn't worry me," added Taribo. Another Nigerian defender, Isaac Okoronkwo, also is unimpressed. "He will stroll around and bore you all day," Okoronkwo said. "He doesn't run much, is quiet for half the game, and you keep asking why the coach has kept him on the pitch. A lot of the time he does nothing". (AP)