England tackle stamina deficit

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The Independent Football

There were footballers but no footballs in evidence yesterday as the finest players in England prepared for the European Championship without the one essential tool of their trade.

There were footballers but no footballs in evidence yesterday as the finest players in England prepared for the European Championship without the one essential tool of their trade.

All they did was run, ceaselessly pounding the track of Manchester United's training complex at Carrington. It seemed ridiculously primitive, a throwback to the days when Claudio Marangoni, having swapped Argentina for Sunderland a quarter-of-a-century ago, became so exasperated by the constant running around Roker Park which passed for training, enquired of his manager: "When do we get to use a football?"

There were, however, sound reasons behind the methods of England's fitness coach, Ivan Carminati, who is on secondment from Lazio but is tipped to join Manchester United once the championships are done.

The feeling in the England camp is that they are a team which can fade badly in second halves. They did so, most notably under Sven Goran Eriksson, in the World Cup quarter-final with Brazil and they did so again on Tuesday night against the rather less formidable Japanese.

For half an hour at Eastlands, England played as fluidly as their captain, David Beckham, could remember in a long time. Thereafter, they exhausted their reserves of ideas and energy. A repetition against France, nine days from now, could be catastrophic.

Beckham could only recall this kind of training in pre-season, while arguing that standards of football and fitness had to improve for tomorrow's encounter with Iceland; the final rehearsal before Portugal. "If the coaching staff think we have to do that, then we have to do it. Our fitness levels were not as high as they should have been," said Beckham, who is expected to shake off a niggling ankle injury to face Iceland in Manchester.

If there was a winner at Eastlands on Tuesday night, it was Frank Lampard, to whom Eriksson had given the holding role that might have gone to Nicky Butt. Before, Beckham had said that "every team needs a Nicky Butt", but yesterday he commented significantly that "every squad needs one".

"It was Frank's first game for a while and there were nerves in that. As well as Frank has done for Chelsea this year people were telling him this would be his chance. That formation is going to be different for us all but it's something that we want to work on and want to get right before we face France. It's got to be right for that."

However, Lampard's one obvious failing as a holding player is his talent for marauding forward. In Shizuoka two years ago, playing out of position was a fault brutally punished by Rivaldo. Thierry Henry is quite capable of a repeat in Lisbon.

"Frank has shown this season that he is a player who gets forward, gets into great positions and when he does that other players have to fill in for him, whether that's me, Steven Gerrard or Paul Scholes," Beckham said. "There has always got to be one or two players sitting. We need to get the formation right, or at least better than it was in the game the other night.

"I have played quite defensively for most of the season in Spain; I'm not used to that, I prefer to be an attacking midfielder. But if I have to defend a bit more, then so be it."

The streets outside Beckham's hotel were full of cars bearing St George's banners and, although an Englishman might today carry off a remarkable triumph in France, they flutter for the nation's footballers not their tennis players.

"The expectation in England is very high. When we go into competitions like this everyone expects us to win and rightly so, because we have a very talented team. On paper, we should go out there and win things but it hasn't happened yet."

Beckham said much the same before the World Cup but argues this is a slightly but significantly better squad. "The young players from a few years back have got a bit more experience," Beckham said. "For the World Cup we were without Stevie Gerrard and Gary Neville. But the squad feels good. We had a get-together yesterday, just the players, and it felt like being in a club side." And unlike the club side Beckham plays for, he can understand every word in the dressing-room.