Michael Owen is set to become the youngest ever England player to reach fifty ca
Michael Owen is set to become the youngest ever England player to reach fifty caps on Wednesday when he leads out England at the Riverside Stadium.
In the absence of David Beckham, the Liverpool striker will wear the captain's armband for the Euro 2004 Group 7 qualifier against Slovakia and will also replace another England skipper as the youngest to claim his half-century of games.
At 23 years and 179 days, Owen will add yet another record to his long list of achievements when he shaves more than two years off the record previously held by Bobby Moore, despite a series of nagging hamstring injuries that has kept him out of more than a dozen England games since 1998. England legend Moore captained the Three Lions to World Cup victory in 1966 and three games later, in November that year, he earned his 50th cap in England's 5-1 win over Wales at Wembley.
But Michael finds it hard to believe he has reached yet another milestone so quickly and over taken a host of stars: ""Jamie Carragher and I were just talking about that funnily enough, and we were talking about caps, different players and how many caps they had and we couldn't believe it - it doesn't seem as though I have played 25 or 30 and if I play on Wednesday it will be my 50th cap, so at 23 I am very proud of that."
And Owen's strike rate isn't too bad either, scoring 20 times in his first 49 matches, but he's hungry for more and will be looking to improve his ratio, starting on Wednesday.
"My scoring record for England is not bad, but I want to get a hat-trick or something to get one in every two," he says, "I'm just below that, I have been for quite a time. I've been playing catch up right from the start really because you know when you're young you come on as sub a couple of times, and then you start and you come off, so its hard to get a good start, but it's time to get that record up to one in two because that's a thing that I want to do."
But it's not just his caps and goals that Owen is proud of, he also feels his all-round game has improved: "I think I'm more of an all-round player now since the last couple of years, developing, coming off, getting the ball to feet and linking play more," he explains, "and I feel as though I can play really well and not score nowadays - I mean obviously I want to score in every game, that's my main asset, scoring goals - but I do feel as though I can play well now without scoring."
Here TheFA.com looks back at Michael's England career with a pick of the games from his first 49, starting with his first out at Wembley more than five years ago...
One - England 0-2 Chile, International Friendly - Wembley, 11th February 1998
On a freezing cold night at Wembley, Michael Owen becomes England's youngest player of the 20th century at 18 years 59 days as he joins a three-man attack alongside Dion Dublin and Teddy Sheringham. Though Glenn Hoddle selects an ambitious side, Owen and England are overshadowed by Chile's man-of-the-moment, Marcelo Salas, who was soon to join Lazio for £13m. The River Plate striker grabbed both of the visitors two goals, a first half volley and a second half penalty while the debutante for England did have one good chance, but his first-time strike was saved well by Tapia.
Two - Switzerland 1-1 England, International Friendly - Berne, 25th March 1998
An injury depleted England side travelled to Switzerland where, for the first time, Owen partnered Alan Shearer in attack. Hoddle's boys fell behind to a first-half header from Tottenham's Ramon Vega and failed to impress. The second half produced a better display from England, which included Paul Merson's equaliser and Teddy Sheringham coming on for the young Liverpool striker.
Three - England 3-0 Portugal, International Friendly - Wembley, 22nd April 1998
With thirteen minutes left and England leading 3-0 against arguably the best team not to qualify for France '98, Owen replaced Teddy Sheringham, scorer of England's second goal. Michael's speed and skill dazzled a strong Portuguese defence and he was unlucky not to have scored at least one of his two chances, and also earn a late penalty. Alan Shearer gave Owen some tips by scoring twice.
Four - Morocco 0-1 England, King Hassan II Cup - Casablanca, 27th May 1998
Starting on the bench in the first of England's World Cup warm-up games in Morocco, Owen joined the action replacing Ian Wright after 25 minutes and was soon to find himself in the history books as England's youngest ever scorer. Steve McManaman released his young club-mate just inside the Morocco half and Owen did the rest, setting off on a scorching run past the final defender before slipping home England's 59th minute winner. He was 18 years and 164 days old.
Five - Belgium 0-0 England, King Hassan II Cup - Casablanca, 29th May 1998
(Belgium win 4-3 on Penalties)
England's young star was again left out with the World Cup only two weeks away. He was given a run in the second half replacing Phil Neville but after a 0-0 draw, could only show his eye for goal from the penalty spot during the shootout. England lost however, maybe a sign of things to come...
Six - Tunisia 0-2 England, World Cup '98 - Marseille, 15th June 1998
Alan Shearer had headed England's first goal of France '98 before Owen became the Three Lions' youngest ever World Cup player coming on as a second half sub for Sheringham. Paul Scholes doubled the advantage with a tidy curler with a couple of minutes left. Owen was soon to take his chance.
Seven - England 1-2 Romania, World Cup '98 - Toulouse, 22nd June 1998
With England a goal down from Coventry City's Viorel Moldovan, Glenn Hoddle answered the pleas from the anxious Toulouse crowd and on came Owen. With just eleven minutes left, Michael made his mark finishing Alan Shearer's cut back and seemingly saving the Three Lions, which prompted future England manager Kevin Keegan to announce to TV viewers: "When the game goes like this, there is only one team that'll win it now and that's England." Unfortunately, Chelsea's Dan Petrescu disagreed and slipped home a winner for Romania in the final minute.
Nine - Argentina 2-2 England, World Cup '98 - St Etienne, 30th June 1998
England made it through to the last sixteen and a meeting with Argentina - it was to be the game that Owen, the boy wonder - announced himself to the world. Hoddle's men found themselves behind early on. Diego Simeone was quick to hit the floor after being introduced to David Seaman's gloves. A penalty was awarded and Batistuta blasted in. But six minutes later, Alan Shearer levelled from his own penalty after Owen's run into the box was halted by a Ayala check. The Owen turned the game upside down in a moment of brilliance a la Maradona 12 years earlier. On 16 minutes Owen collected Beckham's chip forward just inside the Argentina half and head goal ward. Showing Chamot and Ayala a clean pair of heals Owen carried on towards the box before rifling past Roa and reeling away in sheer delight.
More drama was to follow. Zanetti drew Argentina back on terms just before the break and moments later Beckham saw red after kicking out at Simone. Ten-men England held on valiantly but were again to be denied success in the punishing penalty shoot out. Though Owen fired his comprehensively into the stanchion, Ince and Batty's misses were to cost England a place in the last-eight.
Twelve - Luxembourg 0-3 England, Euro 2000 Qualifier - Luxembourg, 14th October 1998
Owen grabbed his fourth England goal in his 12th appearance after just 18 minutes in Luxembourg. Darren Anderton threading through to the Liverpool man who stuck neatly past Koch. An Alan Shearer penalty and Gareth Southgate's first international goal gave Hoddle's team their first win on the road to Holland and Belgium.
Fourteen - England 6-0 Luxembourg, Euro 2000 Qualifier - Wembley, 4th September 1999
With only one-cap added to his tally since the match in Luxembourg 11 months earlier, Owen came off the bench for his first appearance under new manager Kevin Keegan to add to the five first-half goals with a 25-yard curler in the final minute - his first senior goal at Wembley. An Alan Shearer hat-trick and Steve McManaman's first and second goals for England had all but sealed three more qualifying points.
Nineteen - England 1-1 Brazil, Friendly - Wembley, 27th May 2000
Missing the previous encounter, a friendly with Argentina in February, Owen was back to fitness and ready for Euro 2000. A friendly against the Brazilians - an excellent practise for the 'real thing' saw Owen hit his 6th strike for the national team putting England in front with his 38th minute strike past Dida. However, England couldn't hold on until half-time as Franca heading in Rivaldo's corner, despite Neville's last-ditch attempt to clear.
Twenty One - Germany 0-1 England, Euro 2000 - Charleroi, 17th June 2000
It was England's second game in the Low Countries and, after the disappointment of losing a two-goal lead going down 3-2 to Portugal five days earlier, Keegan's side needed something from their historic rivals Germany. It was the same opposition who put England out of the previous tournament and Alan Shearer's 53rd minute header exacted revenge and in turn pushed them nearer the door.
Twenty Two - Romania 3-2 England, Euro 2000 - Charleroi, 20th June 2000
Knowing just a draw would have been enough in their final Group A game, England suffered a set-back on 22 minutes when Chivu's cross dropped in at the back post over the head of stand-in, Nigel Martyn, to open the scoring. Shearer's 40th minute penalty levelled matters and, within five minutes, England were in front. Michael Owen evaded the offside trap collecting Paul Scholes' pass. With just the 'keeper to beat and the defence looking for a flag, the boy wonder rounded Stelea to grab his second Championship goal against the Romanians.
Twenty Three - France 1-1 England, Friendly - Paris, 2nd September 2000
England's first game of the new season was a trip to Paris to face the European and World Champions, France. With Andy Cole acting as the lone striker, Owen started on the bench. An encouraging performance from England saw a series of good chances, but an Emmanuel Petit goal just after the hour mark gave France the lead. But with 15 minutes left, the ever-faithful Michael Owen was introduced and within 11 minutes had pulled England level, sweeping home Kieron Dyer's cross.
Twenty Four - England 0-1 Germany, World Cup Qualifier - Wembley, 7th October 2000
A miserable day for the fans, teeming rain in North West London for the final game at Wembley - and it turned out to be a miserable day for England all-round. Owen's Liverpool mate, Dietmar Hamann, grabbed the winner with a quickly taken free-kick after just 14 minutes prompting Kevin Keegan to give up his post as England boss.
Twenty Five - England 3-0 Spain, Friendly - Villa Park , 28th February 2001
Michael missed the last two games with, first Wilkinson, then Taylor at the helm, but returned to the side for the first game of 2001 - and it was also the bow for new coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson, recently arriving from Lazio. Though Owen didn't get on the score sheet, it was his work that set club mate Nick Barmby free to clip past Casillas for one-nil. Another Liverpool man, substitute Emile Heskey, added the second on 54 minutes, before Ugo Ehiogu's header with 21 minutes left gave Eriksson a hugely satisfying start to his England reign.
by Jamie Bradbury
Place of Birth: Chester, England
Date of Birth: 14 December 1979
Weight: 10 13
Height: 5' 8''
England v Slovakia: Match Centre