Beautifully blunt as ever, Gary Neville stripped the debate over Sven Goran Eriksson's finest formation down to its basest level yesterday when he issued a pointed reminder that England are not seeking plaudits for artistic merit in Germany but the second World Cup in the nation's history.
Victory over Jamaica on Saturday provided few genuine solutions to the pressing concerns of the England team, such as the rapport between Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard or the fitness of Michael Owen, although it did demonstrate the side's prevalent threat from set-pieces and the rigidity of a defence that conceded only five goals in 10 World Cup qualifying games. With such fundamental virtues essential to success in this tournament, Neville will be unperturbed if a scrappy performance and a David Beckham free-kick contributes to a 1-0 semi-final victory over Brazil next month. To the Manchester United captain, pained by the manner of England's exits from recent competitions, the end justifies the means.
Neville, who will be fit to return against Paraguay on Saturday having missed the rout of Jamaica with a hamstring problem, said: "It might not please everybody but if we come away from the game on Saturday having done well, having scored and with the result everybody will say the formation was right. If we don't, the formation will be a load of rubbish and the manager's made the wrong decisions. Nothing changes with England. I don't think you will ever get 100 per cent of the country agreeing with the England national coach on what formation to use.
"Come Saturday we will know what Paraguay are going to do, inside out. We will know what we are going to do and what our formation is. We have played 4-4-2, we have played 4-3-3, we have played 4-1-4-1, and we are comfortable with all of the formations."
The 31-year-old cites the England defence as potentially the strongest in the competition but is mindful of the lapses upon which an entire campaign can unravel. "We have the right ingredients," he insists. "Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Sol Campbell and Jamie Carragher would be recognised as among the best centre-halves in Europe over the last two or three years. The ingredients are there but we do have to defend well.
"The team that wins the World Cup is the one that defends the best. People talk about the Brazil forward line in 2002 but they defended better than anyone else. We cannot afford to concede two goals in the last minute like we did against France. People will always point out to us going out against Portugal, but had we drawn or won against France, we don't get to play against Portugal in the quarter-final. We have to be strong and not concede goals. That will be the platform we can build on."
The arrival of the business end of the World Cup will be evident by the public access, or rather the lack of it, at England's second training session at the Mittelbergstadion today. The local schoolchildren, invited dignitaries and global media who witnessed the squad's first full work-out in the hills above Baden-Baden will catch only a brief glimpse of Eriksson's men as they go through the motions of a warm-up before, with their audience out of the way, the set-pieces, the moves and the formation to face Paraguay commence.
Neville admitted: "Everybody was desperate to get over here. You are at the end of the pre-tournament and you are tired of it. You just want the real games to start. To play in a World Cup for England is the greatest honour you could possibly have as a football player. We have to be excited by what could happen in the next four weeks. Hopefully they will be special for us."Reuse content