Wayne Rooney was given his first break from training by Sven Goran Eriksson yesterday and spent the afternoon attempting to dodge the paparazzi as he strolled around the gardens of the Brenner's Park Hotel with his fiancée, Coleen McLoughlin. In just three days' time, he could be doing the same to the defenders from Trinidad & Tobago.
Eriksson has refused to rule Rooney out of Thursday's match in Nuremberg. On Saturday the striker provided a post-match highlight to England's gruelling 1-0 victory over Paraguay when he despatched a 30-yard volley into an empty net at the Waldstadion and celebrated with a clenched-fist salute to supporters.
Yesterday, he was given time off to relax after a light morning training session, further illustrating England's heightened confidence in the striker's rehabilitation from a broken metatarsal.
The England No 9 looked immune to the tension that his inclusion in Sven Goran Eriksson's final 23-man squad has created between Manchester United and the Football Association.
Rooney and Jamie Carragher clambered from a people carrier on the visit to their partners' hotel here, exchanging brief pleasantries with a couple of journalists and later becoming the sole focus of the paparazzi despite the presence of several household names on the terrace of the five-star resort.
"I heard the chants for Rooney from the fans on Saturday and I know he was desperate to get on to the pitch," said his United team-mate Rio Ferdinand. "He is looking good and when he came into the dressing room he told me he'd just pulled a ball out of the sky in front of all the fans. He was quite happy with that. He is in good spirits and is doing well, so fingers crossed he'll be able to play a part in a few games soon."
United had hoped Eriksson would follow the advice of the orthopaedic specialist who examined Rooney's scan results last Wednesday, Professor Angus Wallace, and only consider their £27m asset for the knock-out stages. Their fears that he will be used as a substitute against Sweden have now been superseded by a hint that he could be involved against Leo Beenhakker's side, particularly if England have established a lead and secured their place in the last 16.
When asked on Saturday evening if Rooney would be fit for England's second game, Eriksson said: "I am always very optimistic. We will decide on Rooney day-by-day; my coaches, fitness coaches and physios. We have to decide together."
England's prospects of topping Group B improved significantly after Sweden were held to a surprise goalless draw by World Cup debutants Trinidad & Tobago. The lack of striking options available to Eriksson, and the reasoning for the reliance on Rooney, however, was exposed in Michael Owen's languid performance against Paraguay and the sight of Theo Walcott walking around yesterday with a heavily bandaged right ankle. The Arsenal teenager was overlooked on Saturday despite Owen's 55th-minute exit - "We thought about bringing him on, but for the first game in a World Cup [he] needs more time, more training", reasoned the England manager.
Although FA officials insisted the strapping on Walcott's ankle was "purely precautionary", it is thought that the injury may have been caused in training - by Rooney.
Owen has completed only one 90-minute performance this year, the friendly against Jamaica, but Eriksson insisted: "How many games has he played now? Four. I'm not that worried. We defended very well, even if we gave the ball away at times. Paraguay did not make many chances.
"It became difficult for Michael Owen and in the second half we didn't keep the ball as we needed to, but I'm sure Michael will do better and better. He just needs to play and play. We have time to get better."
Such optimism was not shared by Paraguay centre-forward Roque Santa Cruz who was unimpressed with England. "Their players are some of the best in their position as individuals but as a team they need to improve," he said. "We were surprised at how easily they lost possession. We felt we played better than England." When asked by a German reporter if England could win the World Cup, Santa Cruz added: "Yes... if it starts raining."
In-swingers from the left: Pardew reveals England's road to victory
In "Alan Pardew's England Chalkboard" in Saturday's Independent, the West Ham manager predicted that David Beckham's in-swinging free-kicks from the left would prove to be a dangerous weapon for England at the World Cup finals.
"We will create chances from free-kicks with Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Peter Crouch attacking the ball swinging in from Beckham's right foot, one touch and it's in," Pardew wrote. "It's lethal."Reuse content