It is a sentiment that no England player had yet dared utter. At past World Cups it has invited ridicule and, on countless occasions, it has come back to haunt the English. But yesterday Joe Cole finally broke the taboo with the simple sentence: "I believe England can win the World Cup".
This particular verdict, delivered 44 years since England last achieved the feat in question, was not a glib throwaway but carefully backed up a thoughtful analysis of the task ahead. At his third World Cup finals, and now 28, Cole has spent enough time on the sidelines this season before making a late run for the squad last month to draw his own conclusions.
It came on the day that Cole finally ended a seven-year association with Chelsea, the club that he supported as a boy, but there was nothing downbeat about a man who will have his pick of the Premier League clubs on a free transfer next month. Not even watching a re-run of David Silva's goal against Poland on one of the English press pack's laptops could dampen Cole's spirits.
Silva's goal – the second of a 6-0 win on Tuesday – was a modern Spanish classic. Eight quick passes, between the goalscorer, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, the last of which was a dink across goal from Xavi that left Poland's defence disorientated. "Are you trying to scare me?" asked Cole, before clicking on play once more. "Go on, let's see it again."
"That's the elite," Cole said. "You would probably have to say that that team there is the most talented in the tournament, but as we all know it is not always the most talented team that wins. Spain are different class, but there are a lot of other factors: discipline, strength of character, a little bit of luck, everything will come into play at this World Cup.
"We are not going into the World Cup thinking we are going to steamroller everyone. The way that we set up to play is to try to play the pressing game. You have to think that just because the other team has the ball it doesn't mean that they are doing anything. Look at Internazionale, they won the Champions League but I don't think they had the ball more than their opposition from the quarter-final onwards. Even Bayern Munich had 60 per cent of the ball in the final.
"But when you watched the game Inter were comfortable. There was no danger at all from Bayern apart from [Arjen] Robben every now and then. So you don't have to have the ball to control the pace of the game. When we played Mexico – who went on to beat Italy and will have a good tournament – we didn't play well and still had five chances to score. Italy had one against them.
"It might not be pretty. We have players like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Rooney, Aaron Lennon so we are a force going forward. We need to press high and show that we are a solid unit. Inter showed the way that is done."
England as Internazionale. Spain as Barcelona. Fabio Capello as Jose Mourinho. And the English as the unpopular, party-pooping winners of the World Cup. It is a beguiling theory and curious that it comes from one of the most creative players in the England ranks. After a career that has included a few ups and downs, Cole is not usually one for hyperbole but he was prepared to stick his neck out this time.
"This squad has got the experience of being in tournaments before, it's got a fit Wayne Rooney, a fit Steven Gerrard and everyone is coming to that right age. I believe we can do it. I'm convinced we can do it. I've got faith in the boys. If we can have that bit of luck that you are going to need, then we can go all the way.
"Spain are a great side but I think if we win our group [and Spain win their group] we wouldn't have to face them until we got to the final. It's about the way you are brought up to play and with Spain they will lend you the ball [and get it back quickly]. Then they will do pass and move and they are comfortable receiving the ball and they can go either way.
"Look at the kind of players we have. Take Gerrard and Lampard. They are the best midfielders at what they do and Xavi and Iniesta are the best midfielders at what they do. That sums up the different cultures. It's about what happens on the day."
Two days from England's first group game against the United States, Cole is not congratulating himself on a spot in the squad, he wants a place in the team. It is something that has been denied him at Chelsea this season under Carlo Ancelotti, a manager who just does not seem to share the faith of his club's fans in Cole.
"It's a tough one," Cole said. "For the five years before my injury I was more or less a regular for England and now, all of a sudden, people are patting me on the back for getting in a 30-man squad. It was great but then I was like 'I want to do more'. I wanted to get in the 23-man squad and now I'm in the 23, I want to get in the first XI. I will just do my job and try to help England win. And hope that I get the best out of myself.
"I never feared my England days were over. I'm very confident in my ability. It's tough for a manager to pick a player when – rightly or wrongly – you're not playing regularly at your club. I enjoy international football. I like the pace of the game. It crossed my mind that I might not make it to this tournament, but not that it was over. Now I'm in a situation where I could be playing. That's fantastic."
In Cole's words, he almost "ran out of time" to make this World Cup squad as Chelsea rumbled towards their fourth league title. There was a desperation to make an impression in the short spells that he was given as a substitute by his manager that, Cole admits, must have looked strange given that he was coming into games that Chelsea were already leading comfortably
Cole said: "It was a hard season for me mentally coming back from my injury. It was stop-start and there was a period in January when I felt I was back to my best. I was making goals on a regular basis but when the boys came back from the African Cup of Nations the manager changed it again. I lost the continuity you need coming back from injury.
"It got to the point where I was coming on for 10 or 20 minutes and I was thinking 'I have got to do something'. You get into that habit and what I need in my career is a manager who will give me that feeling that I am going to play. That faith. I am sure that will all sort itself out."
He said that the games against Stoke City on 25 April and Wigan Athletic 14 days later were those in which he believes he changed Capello's mind after the England manager appeared to have lost faith him at the turn of the year. "People thought 'What is he doing? He's mad' because I was running round chasing balls when we had won the game," Cole said. It seems to have been worth it.
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