England may feel oppressed by both the weight of history and their own doubts when they face Germany tomorrow, but neither problem should prevent them reaching a quarter-final of near but not quite certain death against Argentina.
Diego Maradona's team are exploring a football dimension of their own at the moment, but they are doing it with less than an iron guard in defence and if all goes well in Bloemfontein tomorrow, England may just draw a little benefit from the sense that they have not much left to lose.
Except, maybe, the chains they wrapped around themselves in a shocking passage through the group stage that was only partially redeemed by victory over Slovenia.
The brutal truth is that a team who were numbered among the favourites, however optimistically, when they arrived a few weeks ago, have shed much – if not all – of their reputation as authentic world-class performers.
This afflicts no-one more than Wayne Rooney. He came here numbered among the headliners, Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta and Torres, but it was an elevation which appears to have had the effect of the most callous of handicappers.
That is the bad news that is proofed against any level of varnishing. However, the good news is that Rooney may have touched rock bottom in the second game against Algeria in Cape Town and can only come up. He was much sharper and more involved this week in Port Elizabeth and it is a reasonable suspicion that he too will be liberated by the escape from catastrophe against the Slovenians.
The bad news may just be rendered old news if Rooney can justify the German fears that he is still the most influential man in any England performance.
Franz Beckenbauer certainly tempered his doubts about most everything to do with the current English football culture with the caution that if Rooney makes anything like a run into the afternoon sunlight, so might England.
It was a statement that underlines a basic truth of tomorrow's game. While Germany have already shown they have at least some of the nerve and the fortitude of their predecessors and a skilled, exciting prospect in 21-year-old Mesut Ozil, they do not have anyone in the class of Rooney. This is also true of Steven Gerrard in his ability to make an explosive impact.
There were other encouragements in Port Elizabeth, despite the failure to score a second goal which would have carried England into an infinitely easier side of the World Cup street. John Terry proved that any rebellious thoughts against Fabio Capello rested entirely in his mind. James Milner came back from the dead with a performance of fine character. Gerrard and Frank Lampard on several heady occasions exchanged passes that resulted in promising forward progress.
Glen Johnson looked as though he was regaining a little of his swagger when he had the ball at his feet. Jermain Defoe resurrected his confidence in front of goal.
The result may not have been a banquet and decidedly not something to intimidate a team as resilient as Germany. But a few vital points were made. Capello said that, at last, he recognised some of the strengths of his team. He said the spirit was back.
There will, of course, have to be more than spirit. There will have to be coherence and authority – plain evidence that England have passed through the worst of a severe crisis.
More than anything, there will have to be something more like the real Rooney.
Given all of the above, England should win without the psychological scarring that automatically accompanies a penalty shoot-out. It is time to break a wearisome pattern and the reassurance is that England have rediscovered the means and, maybe, just enough of a healing nerve.
Who will win? Our experts make their predictions
James Lawton Chief Sports Writer:
England have the ability to win 2-1, Wayne Rooney is the key and he should score.
Sam Wallace Football Correspondent:
Germany have some talented players but England have the edge on experience and will nick it 1-0. The win over Slovenia has changed everything.
Glenn Moore Football Editor:
There is little to choose between them, the winner will be the one best equipped mentally to bring the best of themselves. Which will probably be Germany. 2-1.
Ian Herbert Football Writer:
2-1 Germany. England will be livelier than at any other time but Germany will have too much up front.
Steve Tongue Football Writer:
1-0. England to win a tight, tense game, their greater experience decisive.
Lee Dixon Independent Columnist:
2-1 to England hopefully, and hopefully without going to penalties.Reuse content