England coach Fabio Capello gave Michael Owen a vote of confidence on Tuesday, singling out the in-form Newcastle United marksman as a key player in his qualification plans for the 2010 World Cup.
Speaking to reporters on a trip to Lesotho, a tiny mountain kingdom which is surrounded by the tournament hosts South Africa, Capello said qualifying for the tournament was never out of his thoughts.
“My main priority is to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. I think about it all the time,” the Italian said, speaking through an interpreter.
Owen, England’s fourth highest goal-scorer of all-time, has yet to start a match under Capello and was widely quoted as criticising the coach’s tactics after making an appearance from the bench against Italy last month.
But Capello appeared to hold no grudges against the 28-year-old whose recent return to form after an injury-plagued season has helped ease Newcastle’s one-time relegation worries.
“I have a group of players, Michael Owen included, that will take England forward,” said Capello.
The former Juventus, AC Milan and Real Madrid coach also said he had been monitoring David Beckham’s performances for LA Galaxy, with the former England skipper scoring his first goal in the United States last week.
“We have been following Beckham’s progress in America and it is not surprising that he is doing well,” said Capello, who famously dropped then restored Beckham to the Real Madrid line-up last season.
Capello flew into Lesotho on Tuesday to promote a festival for an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign organised by Kick 4 Life and the Lesotho Football Association.
He met youngsters at the Bambatha Ts’ita Sport Arena before handing over a training kit for the Lesotho national team.
England, who have failed to qualify for the Euro 2008 championships in Switzerland and Austria, have bee
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