Eriksson faces greatest test of 'faith' over Rooney return
With Wayne Rooney safely on board, the England World Cup squad leave Luton airport for Germany this afternoon after Sven Goran Eriksson gave the clearest sign yet that he expects the 20-year-old to be making the same journey to join up with his team-mates again come Wednesday.
Out today and back to England on Wednesday for a scan on his foot injury, Rooney will either stay in Manchester and watch the tournament from home if the news is bad or return to Germany the same day. Eriksson has so far pinned his hopes on the 7 June scan but now he says that he has "faith" Rooney will be fit.
"Obviously, everybody thinks he will come back from Manchester on Wednesday evening - that's what I think," Eriksson said. "I have no doubts about it but I can't be sure until he has the scan. You talk about, 'If he doesn't come back'. Don't talk about 'if'. Talk about 'faith'. He will come back from Manchester. 'If' is a problem for that day, not for today."
It was confident talk from an England manager who saw Peter Crouch score a hat-trick but miss a penalty in the 6-0 drubbing of Jamaica on Saturday. "He knows he should have taken it seriously," Eriksson said. "We said, 'You can miss them, but not that way'."
The treatment of Rooney will continue under the Football Association's staff today, although there may not be much spare time. The traditional picture on the steps of the aeroplane awaits and once at their base of Baden-Baden, near Stuttgart in the south-west of the country, the players will meet local schoolchildren and dignitaries.
Rooney, Eriksson said, will be replaced by Jermain Defoe if his scan yields bad news. In the mean time, the squad will be hoping not to fall for Rio Ferdinand's television show pranks - after David Beckham's spoof kidnapping, Rooney was caught out at a dogs' home when he was left by a vet in a surgery with a fake canine patient that expired on the operating table.
Joking aside, it would now seem Crouch will start for England in the first Group B match against Paraguay on Saturday. "Of course it's difficult to leave Crouch out after scoring a hat-trick and a performance like that," Eriksson said. "It's a South American team, they will keep the ball and look to hurt us on the counter-attack, trying to have a lot of them against us. I have always said Crouch is so special. It is very difficult to defend against him. If you can't reach the ball up there, there's nothing you can do. You have to foul him."
As he prepared to embark on his final run of games as England manager, Eriksson, who bid farewell at Old Trafford on Saturday, said that his squad would be among the strongest in the competition. "I think if you ask the other 31 coaches," he said. "I think they have a lot of respect for England. England are different to Brazil, very much different. But I think we can beat them."
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