England Facing Striker Crisis

England coach Steve McClaren was on Tuesday facing up to the likelihood that he will have to do without Michael Owen for next month's crucial UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers against Estonia and Russia.

McClaren, who is already resigned to being without Wigan's Emile Heskey, was anxiously awaiting a diagnosis on Owen's stomach muscle injury as speculation mounted that he will require a hernia operation that would sideline him for a month.

Newcastle striker Owen has underlined his importance to England's cause by scoring four goals in the last three qualifiers and his revived partnership with Heskey helped England to beat Israel and Russia convincingly at Wembley earlier this month.

The impact of the Owen-Heskey partnership was so significant in those matches that McClaren had been widely expected to retain them as his forward combination despite the return to action of Wayne Rooney, who missed the Israel and Russia matches with a metatarsal fracture.

England footballer Emile Heskey (L) challenges Russian footballer Alexey Berezutskiy during a Europe qualifying match

With Heskey ruled out following surgery on a broken bone in his foot, West Ham's Dean Ashton is being tipped for a call-up to the national squad following his recovery from the broken ankle which wrecked his chances of going to Germany 2006 and forced him to miss all of last season.

The 23-year-old is delighted to be back in the England reckoning and to know that, following Heskey's success in unsettling the Israeli and Russian defences, powerful centre-forwards like him are back in fashion.

"It is obviously down to Steve McClaren but I feel I'm ready for a call-up and it would be lovely to realise my dream of playing for England," Ashton said at the weekend.

"Emile was outstanding in the last two games, so hopefully that shows there is room for a big guy up front."

Ashton has the aerial power England need if they are to make the most of their ability to turn opposing defences through the pacy combination of Micah Richards and Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right and Joe Cole's ability to deliver high-quality crosses from the left.

But he also boasts a superior first touch to Heskey and his willingness to loiter on the shoulder of the last defender potentially makes him an ideal foil for Rooney.

This month's victories have put England back on track to qualify for EURO 2008 but they cannot afford to lose to Russia in Moscow on 17 October.

Newcastle were due to make an announcment on Owen's diagnosis later on Tuesday.

Source: FIFA

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