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Football: NO OWEN, NO CHANCE; EXCLUSIVE: The Premiership's greatest two managers' match-by-match verdicts on Euro 2004 SIR ALEX FERGUSON 'Without him, England have absolutely no one who can penetrate'.

Byline: John CROSS

SIR ALEX FERGUSON fears England are in danger of becoming a one-man team - and an injury to Michael Owen would wreck their chances at Euro 2004.

The Liverpool striker has endured another season plagued by fitness problems, while doubts about his long-term future cast another cloud over his preparations for the European Championship.

And Manchester United boss Sir Alex - who tips France to retain their title - believes the forward would be "destroyed" by another setback ahead of the tournament, leaving England toothless in attack.

"Michael Owen, you would hope, has no more injuries," said Fergie. "If he were to get another before the championship he'll struggle.

"It would destroy him in terms of pace and penetration, and without him, England have absolutely no one who can penetrate.

"I think France will win it because there's more goals there. They can select strikers of real quality in Cisse, Henry, Trezeguet and Saha and have Wiltord and Marlet as back-up. That's some selection.

"That's the area you wonder about with the Italians, whether Cassano is the only one they've got and has to play all the time.

"France will win the tournament because they have the individuals to win major championships."

Fergie teamed up with bitter rival Arsene Wenger for 'Goodbye Hoof Hello Nutmeg', Nike's special edition Euro 2004 magazine, to give a fascinating insight into their thoughts on the tournament in Portugal.

The United boss believes France may face their toughest test in their opening Group match in Lisbon on June 13.

He thinks the midfield tussle between United's Paul Scholes and Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, and Arsenal's Patrick Vieira will be crucial. But Ferguson also believes England will not be intimidated by the challenge and even Everton teenager Wayne Rooney will not be daunted.

"It's the worst game France could have to start off with, because England won't be afraid of them," he said. "I think England may get a draw.

"I think the battle between Gerrard, Scholes and Vieira may well determine the outcome of the game.

"Rooney won't be afraid of it either. I just wonder whether he keeps his freshness for a young lad."

Not surprisingly, Ferguson predicts Cristiano Ronaldo - the pounds 12.2m Portugal winger he brought to Old Trafford - will be the star of the competition, and even outshine the likes of Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry.

And the teenager could help the host nation emerge as one of tournament's strongest teams, he added. "I think Portugal will do really well," said Fergie. "They have Rui Costa and Luis Figo, big-game players. Cristiano Ronaldo will light the tournament up.

"What an absolutely fantastic chance the boy's got, at 19 years of age."

CAPTION(S):

STAND BY YOUR MAN: Fergie thinks Manchester United winger Cristiano Ronaldo will be the star of Euro 2004; KEY MAN: Fergie and Wenger say Michael Owen's fitness is vital to England's hopes
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 29, 2004
Words:484
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