Manager keen to play safe over Terry's fitness

John Terry has declared himself fit to play in the friendly match against Slovenia tomorrow but the England manager, Fabio Capello, wants to rest him to make sure that his captain is completely fit for the World Cup qualifier against Croatia on Wednesday.

Terry has had problems with a groin injury and was pulled out of a training session yesterday. However, that was a precautionary measure because Capello wanted to put his players through a tough session and did not want to risk aggravating any existing niggles with his captain. Terry has told Capello he is ready to play and he expects to train today in front of the television cameras.

There are no problems with the England captain's back, as has been suggested. That was Terry three years ago – when he had operation on one of his vertebrae – but that problem has now cleared up completely.

As usual, Terry, 28, is loath to miss any game for England and regards himself as ready to play – which he will say today at his captain's press conference. Jermain Defoe is expected to start up front, with Wayne Rooney as an alternative to the Rooney-Emile Heskey partnership that Capello has used in the past.

The striker competing with Heskey for the target man role in Capello's plans spoke yesterday of how, after offering prodigious promise as a player the former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri described as his "little lion", he had failed to take the game seriously and lost his way. "I would put [that] down to not concentrating, thinking life was going to be easy and not being a professional," said Carlton Cole, who slipped out of Chelsea's plans after the arrival of Roman Abramovich – and ultimately Didier Drogba, an individual with whom he has a close friendship now. "I've come to terms with how to conduct myself off the field and on the field," Cole said.

Capello has already had to tear a strip off Cole for his poor timekeeping, admitted the West Ham United player, who once turned up for a game at half-time. "I got a bit of a tasting," Cole said. But the West Ham manager, Gianfranco Zola, has helped develop his hold-up play and though Cole accepted a call-up for Nigeria only 13 months ago, he abandoned any such ideas when Capello included him for the friendly against Spain in February.

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