They are yet to cajole a performance worthy of the squad's reputation in Germany but the England management team are leaving nothing to chance ahead of the World Cup quarter-final with Portugal.
Last night Sven Goran Eriksson convened a team meeting to warn his players against rising to provocation from Luiz Felipe Scolari's side in Gelsenkirchen and, to remove any doubt about the depth of his concerns, a Fifa delegate was also invited to the Schlosshotel Bühlerhohe to discuss recent refereeing controversies in detail.
Eriksson and his staff were sufficiently alarmed by the antics of Portugal's players in their tempestuous second-round clash with the Netherlands to remind his experienced squad about how discipline will be paramount to success this Saturday. The World Cup witnessed the first nine-a-side game in its 76-year history when the Russian referee, Valentin Ivanov, dismissed two players from either side. Ivanov issued 16 yellow cards on Sunday and, amid the further controversy of Luis Figo's theatrics in Nuremberg and Italy's stoppage-time penalty against Australia, England are anxious to diminish the prospects of a repeat when they face Eriksson's nemesis Scolari for the third international tournament in succession.
The entire England squad were present at the meeting and again when the Fifa official examined how new regulations have been implemented at this World Cup. They were left in no doubt as to the need for traditional English reserve against their conquerors from Euro 2004, who Dutch coach Marco Van Basten claimed had used their "experience, tricks and time-wasting" to eliminate his fancied side.
On the pitch, England may have Gary Neville available for Saturday's quarter-final after the Manchester United captain returned to light training yesterday following a calf injury. However, it was only the 31-year-old's first session in almost a fortnight and his return in the problematic right-back berth this weekend will depend on his output over the next three days. Neville has missed England's last three World Cup fixtures with a problematic injury but, on a day off for the rest of the squad, he conducted a private training session in the company of England's fitness coach Ivan Carminati.
Should Neville return against Portugal then Eriksson will have fielded three different right-backs in England's last three games, with Owen Hargreaves on the move once again. The Bayern Munich midfielder, who will be in contention with Michael Carrick for the holding role if his services are not required in defence, admitted: "I don't mind at all. Just to be on the pitch when you are three wins away from winning the World Cup is what you dream of. Whether I'm in midfield, right-back or on the bench will be down to the manager."
Rio Ferdinand touched on the concerns over refereeing during a brief press conference at England's training base last night. "Yellow cards are being handed out far too freely and we have to look at that," he said. Hargreaves added: "I think referees need to let the players play. Some of the decisions have been hard for the players to understand. The games have been whistled so tightly."
Unlike Ashley Cole, who has stated that he finds the pressures of this World Cup a burden, England centre-half Ferdinand revealed he is relishing the exposure and demands upon him in Germany. "I like pressure," he said. "When there is pressure to do well and pressure to achieve things I'm happy. Maybe Ashley sees it differently. I like the pressure to perform. I like the importance around every game and the buzz. There is a general feeling from people that we are not playing well but that brings us together and makes us want to answer back."
Ferdinand also discounted assistant manager Steve McClaren's theory that the pressure was now off England having reached their minimum target of a place in the last 16.
The 27-year-old said: "I know where Steve is coming from but, for me personally, anything less than the final will be disappointing. Nobody comes to a tournament just to get to a quarter-final and then be content with that. It will mean nothing to me if we go out. To get to the final and to pick up the trophy is the only way that I would see this tournament as being a successful one for us."Reuse content