England race to recover in time for quarter-final

Click to follow
The Independent Football

The global spotlight may be on Wayne Rooney but in the England camp the less celebrated figures of Terry Byrne, Steve Slattery and Rod Thornley have taken centre-stage. With 70 hours between the conclusion of Monday night's 4-2 victory over Croatia and the start of tomorrow's European Championship quarter-final against Portugal, England's three masseurs are working round the clock to rejuvenate 11 tired bodies.

The global spotlight may be on Wayne Rooney but in the England camp the less celebrated figures of Terry Byrne, Steve Slattery and Rod Thornley have taken centre-stage. With 70 hours between the conclusion of Monday night's 4-2 victory over Croatia and the start of tomorrow's European Championship quarter-final against Portugal, England's three masseurs are working round the clock to rejuvenate 11 tired bodies.

Sven Goran Eriksson's pre-tournament worries over the level of England's fitness have been alleviated by their competition performances but he is concerned that the Portuguese have an extra day to recover. Moreover, while several members of the Portuguese team have only played two matches due to selection changes, 10 of England's probable starting line-up will be playing their fourth in 12 days.

"Today we have just done massage, stretches and taken ice baths in the team hotel," Eriksson said last night. "Tomorrow we can only do a light training session and maybe run through some set-pieces. The team's fitness level is very high. We are running and working for 90 minutes, which we did not do in Japan, but we have to recover in two days."

With Owen Hargreaves fit again after a stomach bug and neither David Beckham nor John Terry expected to be troubled by knocks to foot and knee respectively, Eriksson will have everyone available bar Nicky Butt. This is another big change from Japan, when they played their quarter-final against Brazil, managed by Portugal's current coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, with David Beckham and Michael Owen carrying injuries and Steven Gerrard, Gary Neville and Hargreaves absent.

Eriksson resisted several attempts to get him to say that "revenge" was on the agenda, stressing that he and Scolari are friends, but admitted there were echoes of Shizuoka especially in that Portugal are the nearest thing Europe has to a Brazilian team.

"I worked in this country for five years and I always said that," Eriksson said. "They are very good technically, try and keep the ball and play one-touch, two-touch. They can play very good football and if you are not organised you have to chase the ball. They will be very dangerous now after beating Spain. They will not be so nervous."

There is another significant difference between Shizuoka then and the Estadio da Luz tomorrow. Two years ago Rooney was unknown, just whispered about among the Evertonian cognoscenti. The Kid is now the talk of Planet Football as was evident during Otto Baric's post-match press conference on Monday. Every other question concerned Rooney to the annoyance of one Croatian journalist who growled: "Is Rooney God? Pah, the English will be going home on Friday."

What had escaped the angry hack was that the questions were coming not from chauvinistic English journalists but star-struck foreign ones. Baric responded that he knew of 10 players in Europe who could stop Rooney. Sadly he did not list them, nor specify whether he meant individually or that they would have to combine.

It is easy to be carried away by Rooney's emergence but as Eriksson recognised, unavoidable. Having made the comparison with Pele's impact on the 1958 World Cup Eriksson, who watched Brazil's defeat of Sweden in the final, Pele scoring twice, on a friend's black-and-white television in the Swedish countryside, said: "I am frightened of making that comparison but when Rooney scores four goals in three games here you cannot stop it.

"I hope he will be one of the greats. In football you never know but the way he has started this tournament is incredible. You do have to go back to the 1958. Pele was 17 at the time but to compare a player with Pele is not bad at all.

"I hope he continues to keep his feet on the ground. That is the only worry for the future. It is not easy to do. I talk to him a little bit before games. I talk about yellow cards and things like that, but he is always very calm. England are very lucky he has emerged so suddenly."

For all Rooney's impact it is a team game and Eriksson is pleased at how his is developing. "We are becoming better and better. They believe in themselves and it is showing. They also showed good organisation."

The players were rewarded by the lowering of the Hotel Solplay's drawbridge to their families who joined them after the game and remained until 5pm yesterday. "In a tournament it is important to live as normally as possible," said Eriksson, "otherwise boredom can be a problem. When you see your wife and your kids it is a normal life. It is good just to talk about something else and to see different faces. And if you have young kids you want to see them."

The work re-starts today with set-pieces at the top of the agenda. The last five goals England have conceded have come from dead-ball situations: A penalty, a corner, and three free-kicks.

England will also practise penalties. Eriksson, who experienced several shoot-outs in European competition, most notably the Cup-Winners' Cup defeat to Arsenal when Sampdoria coach, outlined his policy. "You have to be sure before the match who wants to take penalties. But you cannot decide until the final minutes because it depends who is on the pitch." Having won one shoot-out in four, and missed their last two penalties in open play, England will hope it does not come to that.

Comments