Injury woes strip McClaren of options

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> When Steve McClaren took over as England manager from Sven-Goran Eriksson, he inherited a problem that haunted his predecessor.

Updated: August 23, 2007 14:33 IST
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When Steve McClaren took over as England manager from Sven-Goran Eriksson, he inherited a problem that haunted his predecessor.

After Eriksson quit a year ago, McClaren began his tenure forced to field backup strikers Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe instead of the injured Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen.

When Rooney healed, Owen was still out. When Owen returned, Rooney was missing.

The two strikers haven't been in the same England lineup since Owen ruptured knee ligaments four minutes into a game against Sweden at the World Cup in June last year.

By coincidence, that was the last time England fielded anything like its strongest lineup and, with Owen sidelined, England didn't have the scoring strength to get further than the World Cup quarterfinals.

Injury problems

It's nothing new to McClaren, who was Eriksson's assistant for five years.

"I have been involved with England for six years now and I don't think there's been any occasion where we've sat down and named the 11 players we wanted to," said McClaren, who has 12 players missing through injury ahead of Wednesday's friendly against Germany at Wembley.

He goes into the game against Germany with Owen just back from injury and Rooney out for up to three months with a broken toe.

Owen is still not match fit, while Manchester United striker Rooney also will miss next month's Euro 2008 qualifying games against Israel and Russia.

If England doesn't win those two games and falls further behind two of the three teams who are above it in the group standings, then McClaren's chances of leading the nation into next year's finals will look slim.

Need to qualify

Right now England is three points behind Croatia and Israel, and one behind Russia. Only two teams qualify from each group.

"We have to qualify. That's the aim. This game (against Germany) is purely preparation, a stepping stone," McClaren said. "The qualifiers are the most important. That's where I'll be judged, whether I qualify or not. We have got four games at home out of the last five and we have got to make them count.

"We have to prepare first and foremost for the (Sept. 8) Israel game and look at one or two things that we might try. Better to try them on Wednesday than in training before the (Israel) game."

McClaren puts a positive spin on the fact that he has to field several reserves or give players like Owen and David Beckham, both recovering from injury, some game time.

"One man's injury is another's opportunity," he said. "They get an opportunity to show that they are good players. David Beckham is just returning from an ankle injury and he needs matches. He needs minutes on the field.

"He's in a similar situation to Michael Owen. He needs minutes and, if we can give him that, that's going to benefit us in three weeks time against Israel."

But the long list of players who are sidelined makes it difficult to McClaren to dress up his team's current injury plight.

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