'Argentina know how to win'

Michael Owen is matter-of-fact, he hardly gets excited when you talk to him and when I pressed him if this World Cup will see a first-time winner, he sticks to his safe pick of Argentina.

Perhaps it is that sort of calm demeanour that allowed the 18-year-old Owen (left) to slalom past half of Argentina's defence to score THAT goal in the Round of 16 at the 1998 World Cup Finals in France.

The striker whose star shone brightest with Liverpool announced his arrival at the top level of international football against the Argentinians and he believes the team in Brazil now have the look of world champions.

Speaking to The New Paper two days short of the 16th anniversary of his wonder strike against the South American giants in St Etienne, Owen said: "The Argentinians have got a good, hard, winning mentality. They're street-wise.

"It also really helps they've got exceptional players, of course.

"They're a country full of talented footballers and I just think they have more quality than the other nations."

Owen scored 40 goals for England and bagged 150 Premier League goals for Liverpool, Newcastle, Manchester United and Stoke.

Now retired, he is still only 34, just seven years older than Lionel Messi.

This is Messi's third World Cup and possibly the Argentine wizard's best chance of leading his country to glory.

After two poor tournaments, the pressure on the shoulders of the Barcelona star increases with each passing day but Owen, who himself was subject to a similar strain wherever he played, is tipping Messi to fire Argentina to glory and bag the tournament's Golden Boot in the process.

Owen, who was in Singapore as a guest of shopping mall Wisma Atria, said, with a grin: "I thought it (top-scorer) would be Messi at the start of the World Cup, too.

"He scores loads, takes penalties, takes free-kicks and Argentina's going to go far in the tournament... I think he's the obvious one."

Level Playing Field

No team from Europe have triumphed in a tournament held in South America, but Owen says the modern game has levelled the playing field.

"I think there's certainly a chance of a European team winning this year," he said.

"Sure, playing in South America is an advantage for the teams from that continent, but I don't think it's as big an advantage as it used to be.

"Football now is such a worldwide game and you've got players from every country playing everywhere.

"It is a more similar game around the world now than maybe 10 or 15 years ago. If we play the World Cup in South America a few more times, a European team will probably win it."

When asked who from Europe could pip Argentina, Owen said: "Germany are always there (as challengers), and, like the Argentinians, they've got a strong mentality, too.

"But I've been really impressed with Holland and France. Their performances have really exceeded what most people thought and they could surprise.

"Belgium have a good team too, with lots of good individual players."

But, just as quickly as he mentioned Marc Wilmots' young and talented Belgian side, the goalscorer-turned-pundit stressed they were still only "dark horses", compared to the traditional big guns.

Even though the World Cup has seen two first-time winners in the last four editions of the tournament - France in 1998 and Spain in 2010 - Owen says the chances of another this year is unlikely.

He said: "It is possible, yeah... There are a few teams who are dark horses, like Chile for example, that have made the knockout stage this year.

"You always get surprises at this stage of the tournament because two out of four teams go through (from the group stage) and you only need one, maybe two, good results and you're through."


This article was first published on June 29, 2014.
Get The New Paper for more stories.