England's coach and captain last night put their faith in Wayne Rooney to live up to the reputation that preceded him to this World Cup and come good in a tie against Germany here in Bloemfontein this afternoon that is expected to be watched by 50 million people in the two countries alone. The Manchester United striker has scored only one goal for England all season, and even with Jermain Defoe brought in as a second striker instead of the non-scoring Emile Heskey, England need him to find the net again to fully restore his confidence.
In a media conference at the stadium so short that it drew gasps of complaint – as well as at least one audible obscenity – from the international audience, Gerrard said: "The pressure's not just on Wayne, but the whole team. It's only a matter of time before he scores in this tournament. I have every confidence in him. He's looking really sharp in training and I'm looking forward to seeing him."
Fabio Capello added: "It's not easy in the World Cup, but I'm happy with the performance of Rooney. I hope he will play like against Slovenia and I hope he'll score a goal. He's fit, no problems. The ankle is perfect."
The England coach confirmed that there were no other injury problems, and that the one selection choice to be made is between Matthew Upson and Jamie Carragher, not Ledley King, who will be among the substitutes. Upson is expected to get the nod.
The teams have not been allowed to train at the stadium – where the pitch is of dubious quality – only to speak there, although the Germans also caused a stir when neither their coach, Joachim Low, nor any player appeared, as they are obliged to under Fifa regulations. The German delegation denied that they were making any sort of protest about not being able to train on the pitch, insisting that there was not time to appear after the final training session. A Fifa statement suggested that no disciplinary sanctions were envisaged.
At least their coach and captain had spoken at considerable length the previous day, when one of the themes emerging was the contrast between English experience and German youthfulness. Gerrard hinted England consider that to be very much in their favour when he said: "Experience helps. I've been involved in massive games throughout my career, so the experience of how to prepare for those games holds me in good stead for this one. There is a lot of pressure and it's a tense situation with so much at stake, but it's excitement. We can't wait to get out there and win the game. We're confident going into the game on the back of a good performance. The mood's good. We've prepared hard and we'll do whatever it takes to get into the last eight."
Gerrard has sometimes seemed bowed down by the weight of leading the national team but he insisted last night that it was an honour rather than a burden and that it was games like these that could enhance a career: "In these games you need to stand up and be counted. It is the stage, growing up, that you want to be playing at.
"There could be a big moment in the game that could end up defining any player's career. It's a fantastic game to play in and everyone's excited and looking forward to it. The plan, as captain, is to lead this team as far as I can. I got the captaincy under difficult circumstances, but it's my responsibility now. I'm loving it, enjoying it, and I'd love nothing better than to lead these boys into the last eight."
Capello had little more to add other than reiterating his satisfaction at the improvement in the third group game. "I think the game against Slovenia was very important for us because I saw the spirit of the team, and also we played very well," he said. "We didn't miss many balls, and switched the play well. Everything was really good. Slovenia was not an easy game because they're a good team and they had only one chance. We created more. For this reason, I have big confidence in my team. They're training very well. Today was the same, like the day before."
Germany appear no more confident than they were on Friday that Bastian Schweinsteiger, the influential midfielder, will be able to play. He failed to complete a full training session yesterday and will be assessed by the team doctors after a final session today. They have been billing themselves as youthful underdogs, which may well be true but also suits them in downplaying expectations and pressuring England, as long as their players do not come to believe in the superiority of players such as Rooney, Gerrard and Frank Lampard, whom they watch every week on German television and regard as some of the best in Europe.
Player after player has lined up to express their admiration. Arne Friedrich, the centre-half, for instance, has said: "England are certainly favourites. Wayne Rooney is a player with incredible qualities."
Germany left the talking yesterday to their goalkeeping coach, Andreas Kopke, a member of the team who won Euro 96 at Wembley after defeating England there in the almost inevitable penalty shoot-out. He said: "People keep talking to me about 1996. Even young players know what happened in the past. There are fixtures which have a special significance and one of those is England against Germany."
The 50-year-old Low, too, is well aware of the history of the fixture, recalling on Friday vague memories of 1970 in Mexico and even the 1966 final. "These games had a certain spice in them – as we say in German – and were full of sparks," he said. He believes not qualifying for Euro 2008 was a turning point for English football, leading to the appointment of Capello, for whom, like a majority of contemporaries, he appears to have the highest regard.
Inevitably before an England- Germany game, there has been much discussion over penalties. England have the edge in experience there and David James was optimistic about the possible outcome, while the young German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer is taking a relaxed approach. "We do hope it will not come as far as that but we will definitely prepare for it," he said. "As a keeper you can only win in such a situation. I never approach shoot-outs in a negative mindset so I believe in my own strengths and I do hope we will win it. I think I've got used fairly quickly to being Germany's No 1. There's no element of fear. I can approach every game with confidence."
World Cup clashes
1966 (Wembley): England 4 West Germany 2
The most famous game and result in English sporting history. Germany, the "away" team, scored first. Helmut Haller, the scorer, ran off with the match ball but Geoff Hurst had the last word, and eventually got it back. Bobby Moore lifted the trophy and his team-mates to immortality.
1970 (Leon, Mexico): England 2 West Germany 3
Just like David Beckham in 1998, Peter Bonetti was demonised for "losing the World Cup" after an unhappy showing when brought in at short notice after Gordon Banks fell ill. Germany came from 2-0 down to win the quarter-final.
1982 (Madrid, Spain): England 0 West Germany 0
Surprise, surprise: England went to a tournament with doubts about the fitness of leading players. With neither Kevin Keegan nor Trevor Brooking ready to take part, a dull draw ensued and the same result against the host country meant Ron Greenwood's team were eliminated.
1990 (Turin): England 1 Germany 1 (Germany won on penalties)
The World Cup England should have won. The teams were neck-and-neck in the semi-final, even hitting the post once each, but Chris Waddle's wild penalty in the shoot-out sent Germany through to beat an under-strength Argentina in the final. The tears of the brilliant Paul Gascoigne were never to be forgotten.
2000 (Wembley, qualifier): England 0 Germany 1
An inglorious end to football at the old Wembley with Kevin Keegan resigning in the toilet after admitting he could not think how to improve the team. David Seaman allowed Dietmar Hamann's long free-kick past him and the pleasure from having beaten the Germans at Euro 2000 was quickly diluted.
2001 (Munich, qualifier): Germany 1 England 5
This must be the most extraordinary result between the two; not least because the Germans had so much of the game early on. Gave rise to the chant "5-1, even Heskey scored".
If it comes down to penalties... (Germany have lost one of them)
Germans on the spot:
v Argentina, WC 2006; Won 4-2
v England, WC 1990; Won 4-3
v England, Euro 96; Won 6-5
v France, WC 1982; Won 5-4
v Mexico, WC 1986; Won 4-1
v Czechoslovakia, Euro 76; Lost 3-5