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   June 13, 2002 | 1125 IST


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England waiting for big guns to fire

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England have survived the worst of the group draws for the 2002 World Cup, but are still waiting to see the best of David Beckham and Michael Owen.

The two men most in the spotlight before these finals have yet to fully live up to their reputations, with Beckham waiting to impose his authority in midfield and Owen failing to score.

With a difficult second round clash looming on Saturday against Denmark, manager Sven-Goran Eriksson needs both men to recover their strength from a sterile but exhausting 0-0 draw with Nigeria in steamy Osaka on Wednesday.

Skipper Beckham has clearly been pegged back by the broken foot which kept him out for seven weeks before their opening 1-1 draw with Sweden in group F, when he lasted only 63 minutes.

The midfielder with a reputation for endless stamina admitted afterwards it was the first time in his career that his legs had simply "disappeared" from under him.

Eriksson had even warned before facing Nigeria that Beckham was still "a little bit tired" after going the full 90 minutes in their 1-0 win over Argentina.


"But I guess playing so often in these conditions, with the pressure, I think it's the same for all teams -- you can't be fresh 100 percent," Eriksson said.

The captain's struggle to hit top form has also been reflected in his trademark free-kicks which have more often flown wide of the target, than hit it, let alone beat the keeper.

However, England fans can take heart from the fact that even below his best, Beckham has already played an important part in his team's progress to the last 16.

They will not need reminding that it was his penalty which defeated the Argentines and his corner that was headed home by Sol Campbell against the Swedes.

He also defended the overall performance against Nigeria, saying: "There will be cynics talking about the way we've played and that we haven't scored goals in open play yet.

"But if people look at the group, and the Argentina game, where we played well, there was always going to be a come-down... But we're through."

Up front, Owen has shown plenty of willing.

But only one or two scoring chances a game have come his way and each time the tight marking accorded to a European Footballer of the Year has led to the keeper's gloves or an outstretched leg blocking his shots.

"Obviously, I'd like to score, but if we make progress and I don't score, I'm fine," Owen said after the group phase ended. "I'll know that I've made a contribution."

That contribution so far has been to win the penalty against Argentina.

On Saturday, England fans will be hoping for a bit more.

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