With so little to choose between teams at this World Cup the intangible aspects, such as confidence, become all the more important and England's management team have been working hard to restore the self-belief that enables players to express themselves.
The Toulouse defeat has been re-assessed as a good performance marred by uncharacteristic errors which allowed an excellent team to beat them. Subsequent results have been skilfully used to add a further gloss. John Gorman, the assistant coach and main gee-up man, pointed out after a behind- closed-doors training session yesterday that even Brazil had discovered how hard it was to win all seven matches in the competition. Swallowing his national pride he then reminded everybody that, while some countries (one, in fact) had lost heavily to Morocco in France, England had beaten Morocco in Morocco.
England's confidence has been further lifted by the gradual easing of their injury worries. Paul Scholes, who had a bruised hand, is fit as is Sol Campbell, though there is now a doubt about whether he was ever injured. Glenn Hoddle, the coach, said he had jarred his knee but, when asked about his knee yesterday Campbell looked perplexed and replied: "What knee?" When the reason for the inquiry was explained he hurriedly added: "It's much better", though he declined to indicate which knee had been jarred.
Paul Ince, whose ankle problem recurred in Toulouse, is, said Gorman, increasingly confident of being fit. "He's an essential player and it was a big loss losing him so early in Toulouse," he added. "But the physios have been working on him all morning and they are more confident that he'll play." Gareth Southgate's situation is less optimistic as his ankle is responding poorly to treatment.
If Ince fails to make it, England are likely to either retain David Beckham or bring in Rob Lee. Since England need a draw Lee, the more defensively disciplined player, would appear the more natural replacement but they insist they will be going out to win. The other element in Hoddle's calculations is that dropping Beckham now, after the controversy over his initial exclusion and his promising performance in Toulouse, may appear vindictive.
"Lee has played that role and been good in training," said Gorman, "but David did exceptionally well when he came in on Monday and, while not the same type of player as Ince, can defend. He gets in quick and closes down players."
Gorman was inevitably drawn into the Beckham affair, which has followed Alex Ferguson's weekend criticism of Hoddle's preference for Darren Anderton and the Football Association's decision to allow Beckham to be interviewed. Hoddle, having said the Manchester United manager's comments were unhelpful, added on television that Beckham had not been "focused on football" when he joined up with the World Cup squad and the club should have dealt with this problem.
Ferguson avoided inflaming the situation in his television appearance a few hours later and Gorman yesterday appeared to back Beckham rather than Hoddle. "I've always felt his attitude had been fine," he said.
The other cause celebre of England's campaign so far is Michael Owen. It increasingly appears he will start tomorrow. "We always intended to nurse him along. But we love him, he is so exciting," Gorman insisted. "He has an old head on young shoulders and is ready to play - as is anyone in the 22."
One of them is the injury-free Campbell, who echoed the general mood with his view that the performance was good. "Romania may have kept the ball but they didn't really penetrate. They didn't make the chances we did," he said. "Losing may help us. English teams sometimes play better if they're up against it. If we'd drawn with Romania we might have been a bit too relaxed. Instead we've had a kick up the rear end."
Campbell goes into the match with a booking and, though there will be an amnesty after the group stages for anyone on one yellow, if he is cautioned in Lens he would still be suspended for the second round. "I can't worry about getting another [yellow card]," he said. "If you do that you don't do your job properly."
And, finally, Gorman admitted that since qualifying for the World Cup, the team "had not played as well as we believe they can as often as we would like." It was not an admission to inspire confidence but it was an honest one.Reuse content