Football: DUFFERS WILL TAKE MICHAEL.(Sport)

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Byline: HUGH O'REILLY

BRIAN KERR is hoping that history repeats itself for two of the central personalities in the World Cup plans of Ireland and England.

Damien Duff set off for Japan on Friday with high hopes of turning on the style for Mick McCarthy's team in their first phase games against Cameroon, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

The same kind of aspirations will motivate Michael Owen when he stars in the cockpit for Sven Goran Eriksson in England's meetings with Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria.

Five years ago Duff and Owen went to Malaysia with similar ambitions for the World Under-20 Championships. And on that occasion it was the Dubliner who came away with most of the plaudits.

While Owen toiled to inspire England, Duff produced some spectacular skill, culminating with the goal which earned the Irish the bronze medal in the third-place play-off with Ghana.

Now Kerr, who also oversaw the early development of Robbie Keane, is confident that the Blackburn player can again deliver the goods in the Far East.

"Malaysia proved that Duffer is a player for the big occasion," said Kerr. "It wasn't as if the opposition were unaware of him before they got to the finals.

"Throughout his career in under-age football he'd always been a bit special and with kids of his talent word always gets around. But it still made no difference out there as he turned defenders inside out with some of the best skill in the championship.

"The senior World Cup will be a lot different, of course, but, the way he's been playing for Blackburn and Ireland this season, Damien can still be a star in the Far East.

"No doubt England will have the same kind of expectations for Owen but I'm one of those who believe that Duffer can again be the more influential of the two when it comes to inspiring others."

Apart from Owen, four of England's Under-20 squad - Liverpool's Jamie Carragher and Danny Murphy, Jody Morris of Chelsea and Charlton's Jason Euell - have gone on to make an impact in the Premiership. …