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 April 16, 2002 | 1840 IST

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Owen to captain England
against Paraguay

Trevor Huggins

Liverpool striker Michael Owen was the surprise choice to captain England in their World Cup warm-up match against Paraguay at Anfield on Wednesday.

Coach Sven-Goran Eriksson opted for Owen on Tuesday after regular captain David Beckham and possible replacements Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell were ruled out of the game by injury.

At 22 years and four months old, Owen will be the second youngest player to captain England's senior team.

England's 1966 World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore was the youngest. He was 22 years, one month and 17 days old when he skippered the side against Czechoslovakia on May 29, 1963.

Sven Goran Eriksson (L) hands the captain's arm band to Michael Owen. Eriksson told reporters Owen, who will be playing on his club ground, was "very positive" and "surprised" at being handed the captain's armband.

Explaining his choice, Eriksson said: "We are playing at Liverpool, he was European Footballer of the Year last year and I think he is a very clean one, very popular in the squad and outside England.

"It's up to him to show he is also a leader. I don't know, I think so."

Manchester United midfielder Beckham is facing around six weeks on the sidelines after breaking a bone in his left foot in a Champions League match last Wednesday.


Campbell damaged his hamstring in Arsenal's 1-0 FA Cup semifinal win over Middlesbrough on Sunday, while Leeds United defender Ferdinand is out with a knee problem.

Manchester United defender Gary Neville, Arsenal goalkeeper David Seaman and Middlesbrough defender Gareth Southgate had been considered the leading contenders to replace Beckham.

The award of the captaincy is the latest major accolade for Owen, who was the youngest England player of the 20th century when he made his debut against Chile in February 1998 at the age of 18.

Owen was also the youngest England goalscorer of the last century when he scored against Belgium just before the 1998 World Cup in France.

The striker, whose season has been interrupted by recurring hamstring problems, is seen as England's most dangerous striker for the World Cup.

Eriksson said the fact that Owen had a near spotless reputation on and off the field was a major factor in his selection.

"It's enough when you see the face of Michael Owen, it's clean," said Eriksson.

It is the second time the Swede has plumped for an inexperienced England skipper.

After taking over from caretaker manager Peter Taylor in January 2001 Eriksson elected to retain Beckham as captain after he had been handed the armband for the first time by Taylor for a friendly against Italy two months earlier.

Wednesday's game is England's last home friendly before they head off for the World Cup which starts in South Korea and Japan on May 31.

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