Fabio Capello will decide today whether James Milner is fit enough to be in contention for selection against the United States in England's World Cup opener tomorrow, a stomach bug having forced the Aston Villa midfielder to miss the last three days of training.
Milner's chances of playing tomorrow are thought to have been severely reduced even if he is fit enough to join in the final training session tonight at the Rustenburg stadium where England will face the US tomorrow. If he misses that session it will eliminate the need for Capello to choose between Joe Cole and Milner, one of the major selection decisions awaiting the manager on the morning of the match.
Milner has been kept apart from the squad and has not been on the safari trip or either of the golf excursions, the second of which took some of the players to the Lost City golf course in Sun City yesterday afternoon. He has suffered from a stomach virus that has meant he has lost some weight but he was understood to be feeling much better yesterday.
Although Capello claimed in a radio interview yesterday that he already had the team he expects to play against the US in his mind, those in his camp say that he is still turning over a number of options. The 4-4-2 formation with Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the centre remains the favoured option. The less likely 4-2-3-1 would probably require a fit Milner to play alongside Lampard as one of the two holding players.
The players had a relaxed day yesterday with no team meeting and a lot of free time at their disposal. Today they will get to see the 42,000-capacity Rustenburg stadium just a few miles from their Royal Bafokeng training base. Capello has also begun studying DVDs of the US team in preparation for making his final selection on team and tactics.
Having despaired of them on the night, Capello defended his players for their indifferent performance against the Platinum Stars on Monday. "In the last games we played I was upset because I didn't see that spirit on the pitch," he said. "But I understand the players because they saw on television that a lot of players were being injured in the friendly games. For this reason I think they missed tackles and got the ball back slowly. It was like soft training and I don't like that too much.
"With training here in our camp I saw everything in the training I wanted to see. We've improved from when we started in Austria [the pre-tournament training camp that began on 17 May] and we have improved a lot here. I'm sure that the game they will play versus the US they will be in a perfect situation physically and psychologically."
In the aftermath of Capello's outburst at photographers on Wednesday, the England manager said that there was nothing wrong with his state of mind. He said: "I'm relaxed. But I understand the pressure. In every moment we walk around and can see the security and the journalists. When we move on from here to go for golf or a safari we need police, a lot of police. It's a different moment.
"I can understand that it is a really, really important moment for football, important for the country. I hear the pressure and expectation from the fans. That is really important."
The Football Federation of Australia announced yesterday that it would concentrate its efforts on bidding for the 2022 World Cup instead of the 2018 tournament for which England is a contender.
Because both tournament venues are being selected in December, bidding nations were initially obliged to officially bid for both but it is has long been an open secret that Australia was targeting 2022. The 2018 World Cup finals will be staged in Europe with England's only remaining rivals the bids from Holland/Belgium; Spain/Portugal and Russia.
The Fifa president Sepp Blatter, 74, who has served since 1998, announced yesterday that he would stand for election for another four-year term. He is expected to run without a serious opponent.Reuse content