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  • Thursday, August 31, 2000

    Hargreaves makes debut for English under-21 team

    By NEIL DAVIDSON -- Canadian Press

     Canadian soccer starlet Owen Hargreaves made his debut for England on Thursday, coming on in the 64th minute as a substitute for the English under-21 team in a 6-1 exhibition win over Georgia at Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough.

     "He looked good, he played well," Football Association spokesman James Scholefield said from Middlesbrough. "He definitely stood out."

     It should be noted that England was ahead 5-1 when the Canadian came on for Middlesbrough's Andy Campbell.

     Still, the praise will make Canadian soccer officials cringe, fearing they are lagging behind in the race to secure Hargreaves's international services.

     The appearance brings to two the number of countries for which the 19-year-old Bayern Munich midfielder from Calgary has played. Canada has yet to figure in on his international resume.

     Thursday night's appearance does not affect Hargreaves's future eligibility for Canada because exhibition matches don't count. But should Hargreaves appear in England's European qualifying game against Germany on Oct. 6, he would be committed to representing England for life.

     Once a player appears in a FIFA-sanctioned tournament or qualifying match, he can play under no other flag.

     Hargreaves was born in Calgary but is eligible to play for both England and Wales through his parents' bloodlines.

     The teen was invited to train with the English under-21 side after a recommendation from a Premier League scout and a member of the public.

     England under-21 manager Howard Wilkinson wasted little time throwing Hargreaves into the fray, alongside the likes of West Ham star Joe Cole and Everton forward Francis Jeffers.

     The young English side was quick to garner kudos.

     "Howard Wilkinson ushered in a bright new era at under-21 level as England's young stars provided a glimpse into the future," England's Press Association wrote of Thursday's game.

     Just where Hargreaves' allegiances lie is hard to tell. As a teenage member of the Bayern Munich first team, he is sheltered from reporters. Asked recently by a Canadian media outlet for an interview with Hargreaves, a press officer from the German champion asked for a list of questions sent by e-mail.

     When such a list failed to produce a response, the press officer then said the club would only agree to an e-mail question-and-answer session if the media outlet agreed in advance to let Hargreaves see the article before publication.

     Hargreaves declined Thursday night to speak to The Canadian Press after the Georgia game. Scholefield said he was playing cards.

     In his defence, the young midfielder has come in for some unwarranted flak for his decision to explore his international options and delay making a decision that would affect him for the rest of his career.

     Canadian soccer officials have applied pressure in the past to get Hargreaves to commit. Osieck made no secret of his displeasure at a youngster resisting overtures to represent his country.

     Osieck withdrew an invitation to a training camp for national and Olympic team players in Germany in March 1999 after Hargreaves refused a subsequent invitation to play for the Canadian youth team at a tournament in Italy.

     As for Hargreaves's current situation, Canadian international goalkeeper Craig Forrest preached caution.

     "Just be very, very careful," Forrest said Thursday from England when asked for his advice to Hargreaves.

     Committing to a soccer-rich country like England has its drawbacks.

     "Now if he turns out to be a player that plays five, 10, 15 games for England, or even more, well that's terrific. But if he doesn't, he'll never ever be able to play for anybody else," Forrest said.

     "The amount of players who play England under-21 is huge and actually making it to the full international side is very, very tough.

     "If I was in his position, I would think very, very carefully about it."

     Canadian coach Holger Osieck, who said he had a "positive" discussion with Hargreaves prior to the England stint, said Hargreaves's talent and international playing options make him unique.

     But he, too, noted the difficulty of cracking the full English side.

     "To make the English top team, that really takes something."

     Osieck has said he may summon Hargreaves for one of the remaining World Cup qualifying games.

     Losing Hargreaves to another country would be a huge blow to the Canadian Soccer Association -- a giant step back for the national team program after a string of steps forward under Osieck.



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