Michael Owen enjoyed an excellent career for England. With a goal against Brazil in a World Cup quarter final, a hat-trick against the Germans and a goal against Portugal in a European Championship quarter final, he certainly contributed his fair share in an England shirt. But arguably his greatest contribution came as an 18-year-old at the very beginning of his career.
Owen was included in the squad for France ’98 but didn’t start the first two games of England’s campaign. He did however appear as a substitute in both fixtures, scoring his first world cup goal against Romania as England lost 2-1.
Manager Glenn Hoddle was obviously impressed, and started the Liverpool striker in England’s final group game against Colombia, a game England crucially won 2-0 to go through to the last 16, where they met Argentina.
Against a side packed with quality – Zanetti, Veron, Simeone and Batistuta – Owen started, and the game quickly opened up. With the score at 1-1 after Batistuta and Shearer had exchanged early penalties, David Beckham picked the ball up in his own half.
Beckham spotted Owen just beyond the halfway line, and chipped the ball in his direction. Owen had Roberto Ayala for company but seemed unfazed, collecting the ball on the volley with the outside of his boot and racing past the centre back. As Owen charged forward however, Ayala somehow matched him for pace, forcing the young striker to shake off the experience Argentinean, showing strength, balance and pace.
Owen’s next challenge was Jose Chamot, the last man between him and the goalkeeper, but the Chester-born striker had Chamot’s number the moment he was one-on-one with him. Owen dropped his shoulder and shifted to the right, and despite Chamot’s excellent reading of his movement, Owen was long gone.
As Owen moved into a shooting position, his colleague Paul Scholes moved into view as if to take over, but this was Owen’s moment. With the number 20 in red across his back, Owen clipped the ball across goalkeeper Carlos Roa, right into the opposite corner of the net, producing a memorable piece of commentary.
‘It’s still Michael Owen! He’s scored a wonderful goal! Is there nothing beyond this 18-year old?’
England went on to lose on penalties after Zanetti’s equaliser at the end of the first half, but if there’s something we’ve come to learn from supporting England, it’s to enjoy the rare moments of pure joy; Owen’s marvellous solo goal was certainly one of them.
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