Owen is fit and ready to face Estonia
With Steve McClaren receiving confirmation of Dean Ashton's unavailability yesterday, Michael Owen delivered some welcome news to the England manager: he is physically ready to start against Estonia on Saturday.
Owen's 16-minute comeback for Newcastle on Sunday – eight days after the second of two groin operations in 24 hours in Munich – featured a goal and then a declaration of international intent from England's talismanic striker.
"Could I play against Estonia?" Owen asked. "I don't see why not. The surgeon tells me nothing can go wrong in terms of the operation. It's much stronger than when I went in and that's how it feels. Even when it feels a bit tight, you just plough through it.
"I will listen to the surgeon and not anyone else because she knows what she is talking about. I don't see why there was any risk in me playing on Sunday.
"Everyone could see how much I wanted to get back quickly and play for Newcastle. It shows a bit of determination on my part to get out there today. It's feeling good and I am available for both teams I represent."
Sam Allardyce, Owen's club manager, does not share Owen's gung-ho approach and would prefer McClaren to nurse Owen through Estonia and the trip to Russia five days later.
Allardyce may not be over the moon either at the choice of Owen's words – "I will listen to the surgeon and not anyone else." Allardyce said last Friday that Owen needed to listen to him and his back-room staff.
The Russian Football Federation has decided against upgrading the synthetic pitch at Moscow's Luzhniki Olympic Stadium for next Wednesday's qualifier, fearing that it would reduce its team's advantage over England.
Fieldturf, the firm who laid the pitch, had spoken to the RFF about a change. "After the defeat [to England in September at Wembley], they said that they will play on the existing surface," said company spokesman Michael Davis. "The Russians had agreed there would be a new surface but the result at Wembley changed that."
However, a spokeswoman for the Luzhniki Stadium said: "There was no official proposition to put in a new pitch. The old artificial pitch is still in good condition."
England will prepare for the qualifier in Moscow by using a state-of-the-art artificial pitch at a school in Altrincham. The Blessed Thomas Holford Catholic College boasts the only exact replica of the Moscow pitch and their surface was also installed by Fieldturf.
Davis believes that the current pitch at the Luzhniki Stadium will give Russia an advantage over England.
"Some of the Russian players will have played on that surface before, knowing that the England players haven't," he said. "Put a brand new surface in and it's a level playing field, nobody's played on it."
But a RFF spokesman disputed Russia would have a significant advantage, pointing out that only two members of their squad – Dmitry Torbinsky and Roman Pavluchenko – play regularly on the artificial surface. Torbinsky and Pavluchenko are on the books of Spartak Moscow, who, along with Torpedo Moscow, play at the Luzhniki.