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Football: MICHAEL'S MY MAIN MAN; ENGLAND v ISRAEL EURO 2008 QUALIFYING GROUP E AT WEMBLEY, TODAY, KICK-OFF 5PM McClaren: I've lost count of the times he's got England out of trouble.

Byline: Martin Lipton CHIEF FOOTBALL WRITER

MICHAEL OWEN has come good time and again for his country but rarely has an England boss needed him more than Steve McClaren does at Wembley today.

For all McClaren's talk of "bravery" and resolve last night, the one thing that will beat Israel and keep alive England's Euro 2008 ambitions is the most valuable currency in the game - goals.

Only Owen is a guaranteed source of that precious commodity at international level, his tally of 37 in 83 games representing eight more than the rest of today's England team have between them.

And with Emile Heskey resurrecting the partnership which last started against Croatia at Ipswich four years ago, England manager McClaren did not try to hide the importance of the one genuine goal-scorer in his ranks.

McClaren said: "I think the main thing that Michael brings is goals - and goals at vital times.

"I do not know how many times I've sat on that bench for England and we've looked out of games and not looked like scoring when all of a sudden he has gone across the near post and glanced one in or it has hit his shin and gone in.

"He's always on the spot and that's what Michael brings. Never mind what work he does outside the box or who he needs to play with, he brings us goals.

"We need to supply the ball in the right areas, in the penalty area, for Michael to score.

"And he's looking sharper and sharper every day he trains. The last two games he has been boosted with two goals and he is a big player for us in big games."

Too true. McClaren was recalling the games against Germany, Brazil, Slovakia and Argentina, among others, when Owen found the key to unlock the door.

And against an Israel side who will be happy to sit back, invite England on and simply try to frustrate their way to the draw - which would bring the anger of the country down on the manager and his team - there is nobody McClaren would want to rely on more. Successive goals for Newcastle, against Barnsley in the Carling Cup and Wigan in the league, appear to have sharpened Owen's predatory instincts at the right time for an England side desperately needing an injection of self-belief.

Skipper John Terry, who knows his job is likely to be more about keeping England focused and composed rather than resisting an Israel surge, also agreed the man the squad call "Mo" is central to everything.

"He's full of confidence after scoring for Newcastle," said Terry.

"He drops off and gets in behind defenders and he's very quick and sharp - and an awesome finisher.

"For a defender he's always a threat because you never know where he's gone. He can play on your shoulder and spin in behind you and if he gets half a chance then he can score."

For England's and McClaren's sake, Terry's faith needs to be justified. While McClaren talked a good game last night, illustrating the qualities his side need to demonstrate, nobody expects Heskey to suddenly become a born-again goal machine.

Likewise Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joe Cole are in the team as suppliers rather than predators, Steven Gerrard may be inhibited by his broken toe, Gareth Barry will be settling into a new role and while Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Micah Richards offer inches, they have scored just four times between them at this level.

It does not augur too well facing visitors who believe they can turn the Wembley factor back against England, although McClaren insisted: "We've got ample in our squad to break teams down, ample to create and ample to score. The key is patience.

"We're going to have chances. We had chances in Israel and we didn't convert them. We need our wide players to supply crosses, we need people to beat players, we need our full-backs and we need penetration through the middle and we need our strikers, whoever they are, in the box when it is delivered."

The reality, worrying but brutal, is that England's best result from Group E so far was a win in Macedonia who are 67th in FIFA's world rankings.

Hardly earth-shattering and yet McClaren, asked why, despite the injuries, the doubts and recent history, he was convinced his side will win, was adamant: "Because I know I've got the squad, I know I've got the players.

"I've watched them train and I will tell them that how they've trained is how I want them to play. You've seen that week-in, week-out for their clubs.

"I see it when they come here for three or four days, training, their preparation, their attitudes. They have to transfer that on to the field."

They do, like never before.

If not, McClaren will pay the price.

Today, though, Owen can keep the debt collectors at bay. It is a task he will relish.

21 YEARS SINCE OUR LAST GOAL AGAINST ISRAEL..

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

February 26, 1986: Tel Aviv, friendly

ISRAEL 1 ENGLAND 2

ENGLAND were preparing for the World Cup finals in Mexico when they first crossed paths with Israel, and suffered an early shock when Eli Ohana put the hosts in front to the delight of a 30,000 crowd. Sir Bobby Robson's men fought back as Bryan Robson drew them level in the 52nd minute and they were then awarded a penalty with three minutes to go by French referee Philippe Mercier. Robson stepped up to score from the spot, which proved to be England's last goal against Israel.

February 17, 1988: Tel Aviv, friendly

ISRAEL 0 ENGLAND 0

SIR BOBBY Robson used this match to try out a number of fringe players ahead of the 1988 European Championships in West Germany, but it was a damp squib of a match in which Mick Harford won the first of two England caps, coming on as a second-half substitute for Clive Allen. Israel's side featured former Liverpool defender Avi Cohen, then at Rangers, while their goalkeeper that day, Bonni Ginzberg, would also end up at the Ibrox club for a short time.

March 24, 2007: Tel Aviv, European Championship qualifier Group E

ISRAEL 0 ENGLAND 0

ENGLAND fans turned on Steve McClaren after his team failed to score for the fourth time in five matches as Israel achieved their objective of frustrating the visitors. The closest England came was when Jamie Carragher's header from a Frank Lampard corner flicked off the crossbar late on.

TV TIMES: Live on BBC1, kick-off 5pm

REFEREE Peter Vink (Holland)

CAPTION(S):

JUST THE TWO OF US: Owen and Heskey are set to start in attack
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 8, 2007
Words:1116
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Next Article:Football: Beardsley: Owen & Emile are just like me & Lineker; ENGLAND v ISRAEL EURO 2008 QUALIFYING GROUP E AT WEMBLEY, TODAY, KICK-OFF 5PM.


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