After regularly stating his objective at the World Cup is to reach the final, Fabio Capello has upped the odds a fraction. Despite all the traumas of the previous week, culminating in the resignation of the Football Association's chairman, England's head coach was no sooner back where he likes to be, out on the training pitch, than he was declaring of his team: "I think my England team can beat them all. My players believe that."
The fresh air in Austria must have done them good. Whether interrupting a fortnight's preparation at altitude for the down-to-earth environment of North London and a last home friendly on the unloved Wembley pitch is a good idea remains to be seen. Needs must, it seems, however vicious the circle of playing on the dodgy surface in order to finance the stadium, thereby making it worse.
Those who have impressed in the Alps this past week – Adam Johnson and Tom Huddlestone among them – will be particularly keen to tread the boards, however soft and spongy. Both are likely to be given a run in tomorrow night's game with Mexico, offering Manchester City's Johnson an opportunity to confirm he is the best natural left-winger in the squad and Huddlestone the chance to rival Michael Carrick as a replacement in the final XI should Gareth Barry not be fit to play his part.
As Johnson's star waxes, so Joe Cole's will diminish, and the Chelsea midfielder needs to shine brightly to avoid being eclipsed when the squad of 30 is reduced by seven at the end of this week. Like the other four players who took part in the FA Cup final (for only 20 minutes in Cole's case), he will sit out the penultimate game before the finals, in his case in major frustration.
Robert Green and Joe Hart should get a half each in goal, while Ledley King and Leighton Baines may play, although Capello gave the impression that for once he would like to do an Eriksson and make more changes. "The first XI will be really, really strong but we can only do six substitutions," he said. Barry will have a decisive fitness check before the game and as Capello says: "The game will be important for his alternative."
As England are regularly eliminated at the quarter-final stage, Mexico, who always lose one round earlier, are reasonable opposition. For four tournaments in succession, they have come through their group, then succumbed, to Argentina (2006), the United States (2002), Germany (1998) and Bulgaria (1994).
The current squad, preparing to play South Africa in the opening game, then France and Uruguay, boasts a sturdy centre-back in Barcelona's Rafael Marquez and a crop of bright young players including Manchester United's new £6m striker Javier Hernandez, Arsenal's Carlos Vela and the Dos Santos brothers Giovani (formerly of Spurs) and his brother Jonathan from Barcelona.
Two strikers with varying degrees of Premier League experience – Nery Castillo, who was briefly at Manchester City and West Ham's Guillermo Franco – will also play.
England (possible) Green; Carragher, Ferdinand, King, Baines; Lennon, Huddlestone or Carrick, Gerrard, Johnson; Crouch, Rooney.
England v Mexico is on ITV1 tomorrow night (8pm kick-off).Reuse content