`Terrible twins' back Walcott

AP

Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o give the thumbs up to England's latest young hope, writes CINDY GARCIA-BENNETT.

Ronaldinho, the world's best footballer, has assured English teenager Theo Walcott that "football has no age" and urged the youngster to seize the moment if he gets his chance to display his skills at the World Cup this summer. Walcott, 17, who has not even made his debut for Arsenal yet, was the biggest surprise in England's provisional World Cup squad named by coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. Walcott was signed by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger this January from Championship side Southampton for GBP 5m, which could go up to GBP 12m, a record for any player of that age. It is not just brilliant Brazilian Ronaldinho who gave Walcott words of support. The other half of Barcelona's `Terrible Twins', Samuel Eto'o too had encouraging words. Eto'o was 17 when he played for Cameroon in the 1998 World Cup.

Ronaldinho, two-time reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, told PA Sport: "Football has no age. If he has quality, I see no problem in him being included. I think it's a normal thing." Ronaldinho, who has been the inspiration behind Barcelona's successful Spanish title defence, does not believe the pressure will be too great on the striker. "I really don't believe it will be big," he said. "There is nothing greater than playing in the biggest competition in the world when you are young. He has to enjoy the moment."

Eto'o says he is thrilled for Walcott. "I played at the World Cup at the age of 17," he said. "I think he (Walcott) has to live the dream to the maximum. The World Cup is the most important event in a footballer's life and I remember when I was told that I would play in a World Cup. It was one of the most important days in my life. At 17, it's a dream. You cannot believe it's happening to you. I loved the experience and I remember running on the pitch after a game against Italy. I went running onto the pitch to ask for (Roberto) Baggio's shirt."

Eto'o says it is up to Walcott to make the most of the opportunity. "I think if the coach has taken him, it's because he is a good player and I think he has to show that the coach hasn't made a mistake."

Sven-Goran Eriksson named Walcott in his provisional squad because of the metatarsal injuries to his two leading strikers, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen. The move has been welcomed widely in England, though a note of caution has been sounded that it is too early to expect the `impossible' from someone so tender.

Everyone at Arsenal, including manager Arsene Wenger and goal machine Thierry Henry, are not at all surprised that Eriksson selected Walcott after seeing him train at Arsenal's London Colney training ground. "We have seen him train over the last few months," said Robert Pires. "He is the best young talent in England at the moment. He is as talented as Wayne Rooney was in 2002."

Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard also praised his national manager. "I don't think the gaffer is crazy," said Gerrard about Eriksson. "Walcott will be the ace in the pack. We all know he is a fantastic player with tremendous speed. If he gets thrown in at the deep end, he may just surprise a few people and come up with a couple of winning goals, you never know."

Ballack's reality check

Playing at home, an inexperienced German team has set modest World Cup targets to start with according to its captain and star midfielder Michael Ballack. "A lot of our players are still learning and still far from reaching their peak," said Ballack. "We have a lot of players who could still play for the Under-21 team. That says a lot." Ballack, 29, is one of the few experienced hands in the team, the other two being fellow midfielder Torsten Frings and goalkeeper Oliver Kahn. "Everyone must be aware that a surprise is possible with this young team, but also an early exit," said Ballack. "However, the minimum target should be reaching the quarterfinal or the semifinal."

Though Ballack is cautious about the chances of Juergen Klinsmann's inexperienced side, the manager is thinking big and has set the target of winning the tournament to satisfy home fans. The management of the host nation has even booked hotel rooms in Berlin for the final on July 9.

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