Hard work begins as England arrive in Rustenburg

  • @stevetongue

The sense of excitement locally was palpable as England flew into Oliver Tambo airport east of Johannesburg yesterday morning. A talk programme hosted by John Robbie the former Ireland rugby union international crossed live to the scene to ask a breathless reporter: "Who's on the plane?"

Fortunately for England's World Cup hopes, the answer was everybody had made it, Gareth Barry and all; and there was even a bonus, of sorts, in that David Beckham was there too, as part of what the Football Association call the "backroom staff, not the coaching staff". What he will do in his backroom has not yet been specified.

No dramatic entrance either for waiting fans. The squad were whisked away and put on a bus to their headquarters at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex in Phokeng, near Rustenburg. Bafokeng means "people of the dew", the earliest settlers having found a morning dew there, which England's reduced squad of 23 may or may not find today. Yesterday they needed a quiet morning after the 11-hour overnight flight and trained only in the afternoon.

Morning sessions, and sometimes another one later on will be the pattern in the long build-up to next Saturday's opening groupo match against the United States, happily taking place in Rustenburg, at an altitude (just under 5,000ft) that they should be accustomed to by then. The players are expected to notice the difference from their previous stint up in the Austrian Alps at barely half that height.

Fabio Capello will consult his large team of specialists carefully about the training routines, seeking maximum fitness as well as freshness by tomorrow week. That will not be easy to achieve, for too often in the past at summer tournaments England have shown the effects of a hard domestic season played at fierce pace. Heat has often been a problem too and, given how warm it was during the day yesterday, the players will be pleased that two of their three group gamnes kick off at 8.30pm local time; the same would apply if they win the group and play a second round match in Rustenburg three weeks tomorrow.

A full-scale practice game will be played against local side Platinum All Stars on Monday, although the details are still to be finalised. Whether it will be a private affair or part public relations exercise for the local populace is unclear. It would be nice to think the latter in view of the enthusiasm being generated around this World Cup by ordinary South Africans. Yesterday Brazil took part in a well-received training session in the heart of Soweto.

Beckham may become involved in meetings designed to promote England's 2018 World Cup bid. He would doubtless love to hook up again with President Nelson Mandela, whom he met when England played in Durban in 2003. There are no sight-seeing trips planned, however, for the playing squad, in keeping with Capello's strict regime. "Training, resting and eating" was the word from the camp yesterday. There is likely to be disappointment too for either locals or media personnel hoping for regular entertainment from those exotic creatures known as the Wags. The latest survey suggest that most are staying at home and only planning to appear if England make the semi-final or final.