ENGLAND coach Fabio Capello, whose side open their World Cup campaign against the USA tonight, predicted yesterday that his side would reach the tournament final.
• The England squad are put through their paces in training last night. Picture: Getty
In his most candid comments since he and England arrived in South Africa eight days ago, the 63-year-old Italian also said previously-injured midfielder Gareth Barry was now fit to play, but would remain on the bench against the United States.
Refusing to be drawn on his team, he said he would not announce who was playing to the media or to his 23-man England squad until two hours before kick-off for the Group C fixture at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium. However, he was prepared to forecast that England would get to the final in Johannesburg on 11 July.
"I am very happy that the confidence of the fans is really big because of the results and performances in the qualifying. The expectation now is high after such a long time and I am sure this time the team will be able to arrive in the final," Capello said.
Capello, who supervised England training at the stadium last night, added: "The first game is always very hard, but we have had eight days of training well and today a very good training session. There is no pressure. The challenge for us is to win. Anything else is worse. I want to see the English spirit that I saw in the qualifying and see the players looking very comfortable on the pitch."
Capello, meanwhile, insists he is enjoying the challenge of trying to deliver the hopes of a nation. "I am a normal man – but my job is important," he said. "It is fantastic. It is exciting. It is a tough job. Behind me there is a whole country. For a month we have to live with policemen, press conferences every day, TV, everything at every moment. You switch on the television and it is all about the World Cup.
"I have to live with this pressure. It is not easy. But I will try."
Only once has Capello shown any sign of buckling under the magnitude of what he has been asked to achieve.
Forty-eight hours after his training ground blast at a photographer, the smooth veneer was back, unrepentant, determined and utterly convinced his players can find the right tune.
"I am not tense," he said. "Privacy is privacy. Taking photos of the dressing room is not good. I have always said that a manager is important, he has his worth. But without good players you cannot win. Either you have a band or you have an orchestra."
Capello said that he had selected a team in his own mind, but would not announce it because it was his habit to wait and check on his players on the match day. "I always decide at the last moment so I can speak to the players, all of them, and make sure all of the players are in good condition, mentally and physically and then it is for me to decide," he said.
"Barry has trained three days, normally, hard and he is fit. He will be on the bench and not in the starting line-up."
This comment virtually confirmed that captain Steven Gerrard would combine with Frank Lampard in central midfield.
Pressed, Capello also said he felt there was no reason to tell his central defenders, expected to be Ledley King and John Terry, who was playing in goal behind them. Robert Green is judged favourite for the slot. The choice at right-back is between Glen Johnson and Liverpool team-mate, Jamie Carragher.
Asked the ritual daily question about the mood and temperament of Wayne Rooney, who was cautioned during a belligerent display in England's final warm-up game on Monday – and who has failed to score in any of his last six internationals since last September – Capello again oozed confidence and said he expects the striker will enjoy a trouble-free World Cup.
"He's spontaneous, not uneducated," said Capello. "He's instinctive and when he goes out on to the pitch he goes out to win.
He's someone who gets angry when he's treated to something unfair. But he'll be fine for the World Cup, just as he was for the entire qualifying period."
Capello admits he has learnt from his own experiences as a player with Italy at the 1974 World Cup in ensuring England are fully prepared for the finals in South Africa.
He feels his squad are coming to terms with the altitude and is confident they can do themselves justice. He continued: "I was a player for Italy in 1974. I remember everything that happened. I studied everything.
"We have prepared with England every moment when we stayed in Austria and here, to not make the same mistakes that we (Italy] made in West Germany.
Capello joined the lengthy list of coaches and players who have voiced criticism of the ball being used in South Africa.
He said: "The balls are terrible.....terrible. It's impossible to control when you play long balls."
Plenty of speculation has surrounded who might partner Rooney in England's attack at the World Cup. The former Everton frontman would be happy enough to go it alone as the only striker, if asked. "I've played at United on my own and I've enjoyed being in the box poaching to get goals," Rooney said in a BBC interview with Alan Shearer. "And when I've played for England I've played in 'the hole' and I've enjoyed that too.
"So I think when you play off a striker you're involved in the game a lot more and you enjoy it, but you maybe don't get the chances you do when you're up front on your own. If I'm being honest I probably enjoy playing on my own more."
The key battles in Rustenberg opener
JOHN TERRY v JOZY ALTIDORE
With Rio Ferdinand injured, the pressure will be on former captain Terry to marshal England's defence in what looks to be their toughest group match. The Chelsea man has had a difficult season and questions remain about his prowess at international level. With his pace and power, Altidore is sure to test Terry. It is safe to say British fans did not see the best of the 20-year-old during his loan spell at Hull this season, but his record at international level is good and he was one of the stars of the Confederations Cup in South Africa last year.
STEVEN GERRARD v MICHAEL BRADLEY
Gerrard is another player who has endured a difficult domestic season, failing to halt Liverpool's slide, and he will be desperate to prove himself in South Africa, especially after taking over the captaincy. The 30-year-old must contain the threat of Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Bradley. The 22-year-old is the son of USA coach Bob Bradley, but there are no accusations of nepotism. Bradley was the youngest Major League Soccer player to be sold to Europe when he joined Heerenveen in 2006 and has gone from strength to strength since.
WAYNE ROONEY v OGUCHI ONYEWU
Rooney goes into the World Cup on the back of the best season of his career and with England's hopes expected to rest on his shoulders. The striker's talent is not in doubt, but his temperament is and signs of frustration during the warm-up games have led to fears his indiscipline could cost England. Rooney will have a worthy adversary in Onyewu, whose impressive displays for Standard Liege prompted AC Milan to sign him last summer. His season was wrecked by a knee injury, but he is now fit and the 6ft 4in centre-back is a big obstacle to England.
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