Fabio Capello last night remained tight-lipped over the identity of his line-up for England's crucial Group C meeting with Algeria in Cape Town today, and the Italian insisted once again that the players would not find out the team until two hours before this evening's kick-off in Green Point Stadium on the shores of the Atlantic.
The England manager was criticised in the wake of the opening draw against the US in Rustenburg for keeping the starting XI to himself until late on, with some critics claiming that the lack of mental preparation time contributed to an erratic display, notably by the goalkeeper Rob Green. Capello said: "I have decided but we have to wait until tomorrow. I haven't told the goalkeeper who is playing. As always, they will find out on the the day of the game – never the day before." Capello has to decide whether to leave Green in place or recall the more experienced David James, who was originally given the squad's No 1 shirt. There are also question marks over the inclusion of Emile Heskey, after the Aston Villa striker again failed to score in an England shirt.
Jermain Defoe has been mooted as a replacement for Heskey, with another train of thought promoting captain Steven Gerrard to a role further forward. Capello said: "Heskey is important for movement but also a different supporter of the other players. I was happy after the USA game after everything I saw but not the result. But the pressure of the first game is higher than the other games."
Capello defended his selection of Green, although his preference for experience may tilt the balance in favour of James, who has 50 caps compared to Green's 11. "I think Green was in a good moment, he played very well against Mexico," said Capello. "Some keepers are making mistakes. The problem is the ball, the bounce is higher than normal. I think all the players can make mistakes. But I have to choose by the value of different players, not for mistakes."
Capello has been the subject of criticism for the first time since being appointed England manager in the wake of the unsuccessful attempt to qualify for Euro 2008.
Asked if he had made any mistakes over the past week, he added: "All managers can make mistakes. I decided the best players I saw during training, I decided the first XI and who I think was the best player who can play. I can make mistakes but I choose the players at this moment who is the best."
Algeria lost their first game against Slovenia but Capello said neither he nor his players would underestimate them. "I respect the team," he continued. "They have scored a lot of goals. Algeria are dangerous at free-kicks and corners. Also on counter-attack they play very well. I saw all the games that have been played. Not one game is easy. It will be a big mistake to think this game will be easy."
Gerrard is hoping to play a more attacking role against Algeria, the weakest team in the group. It has been mooted that the Liverpool striker may move into a position further forward behind Wayne Rooney, who was a frustrated figure last weekend, and the 30-year-old welcomed the possibility.
He said: "We'll have to wait and see what formation we choose to play. I'd imagine I'd be in a more forward, attacking role and that suits me. I am looking forward to it. We were pleased with the majority of the first performance. There was a lot of pressure and tension – hopefully the second will be more fluid."
Gerrard added: "Rooney looks great in training, it's only a matter of time before he finds the back of the net. This season he has been one of the best players in the world and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before we see that in this World Cup."
The Jabulani ball has been highly criticised with Capello joining in the chorus. Gerrard, though, was philosophical, saying: "It's not so bad for midfielders and strikers. But when it comes off the ground it's very unpredictable You get an advantage when shooting because the keeper doesn't know what's happening. But it's one of those things, it's the same for both sides. It's going to be the ball for the rest of tournament so we have got to accept it."