Young v Old and three corners equal a penalty: the secrets of England training

Sam Wallace is one of the lucky few to witness Premiership-style ferocity of England's first training session in Baden-Baden
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The Independent Online

They say an English footballer treats every training session like a match, gives no quarter in the tackle, keeps the score in every six-a-side, and it is a tradition that the uninitiated watch with a mixture of horror and awe. In the hills of the Black Forest yesterday, the locals watched intently and then left for home pondering the big questions. Like whether England will play 4-4-2 on Saturday or if Wayne Bridge really did try to break John Terry's leg with that tackle.

Bridge on Terry was the most choice of the bunch, but Gary Neville on Theo Walcott was a contender too. Yesterday was when the England team really made their presence felt in Germany and provided a two-hour star-spotting session for the local schoolchildren. The mentality of the Premiership footballer was laid bare for the people of Buhlertal, near Baden-Baden, within the running track of their modest Mittelbergstadion. Tord Grip stopped short of playing his accordion but Sven Goran Eriksson's trusty old assistant gave the kids a laugh by tripping over the kitbag.

It also felt like the start of a great journey. The Football Association threw open their doors for one day only and even Sir Trevor Brooking put on his tracksuit. We saw Peter Crouch miss another penalty, Rio Ferdinand scored one and Michael Carrick had one of those mornings best forgotten. This was an uncommon insight into the England squad but it told you one thing at least, that none of them look the least bit tired.

And, of course, around the edge of this gathering, gazing longingly at the match played at the end, was Wayne Rooney. He strains at the edge of the leash like no other injured footballer. Allowed into the early part of the training that did not involve a ball at his feet, Rooney simply could not resist at times. One loose ball lobbed towards him at the end of training was zapped into the net by his left foot. When Rooney strikes the ball you hear it as well as see it, and the surrounding valley provided the perfect acoustics.

Training alone with the fitness coach Ivan Carminati in the corner of the field, Rooney sprinted and weaved around obstacles. Later, at 4pm, he returned for a closed training session.

In the morning, Rooney's instincts were given a freer rein. No scissor-kicks this time, but Rooney's default setting is to attempt to strike every ball he is passed into a new timezone.

Later that morning Gary Neville compared the current squad to the one he played in at Euro 96 and said this one was "technically better and has some powerful figures in it as well". His point was that you could not win a World Cup with strong characters alone. "You do have to produce moments of magic," he said, "and we do have players within our squad who can light up games." He was not only taking about the moody 20-year-old in the corner running shuttles on his own.

You can see a different element to the England team emerge when they train together and the kind of characters about whom Neville is talking.

Rooney was allowed in for the handball exercise, but not for the full-blooded football match at the end where the "oldies" take on the "youngies" and everything - reputation, even first-team places - seems to be at stake.

Sammy Lee, the referee, was pestered incessantly to give corners because, under England squad rules, three corners can be cashed in for a penalty. Terry stuck away one spot-kick for the youngies, Ferdinand did the same for the oldies and when Peter Crouch stepped up to take another for the juniors you felt sure lightning could not strike twice. So even his team-mates spared him the stick when David James saved.

Then Bridge broke through down the left channel and, as Terry flung himself at the ball, Bridge caught his club captain on the foot. As Terry hobbled and grimaced, you could not help but think what a pointless way it would be to end a World Cup. He waved away any attention. Walcott must have taken note because when Neville swept his legs away, the teenager pretended it didn't hurt.

At 3-3 the youngies and oldies settled their match on penalties, with Jermaine Jenas' spot-kick saved by James to give the seniors victory. In the village of Konigstein up the road, they say 97 per cent of the population are millionaires, the highest density in Germany. The ratio is probably higher in the England squad, but yesterday you felt that all of them earned their money.

Nagging injury makes Cole doubtful

While his team-mates trained, Ashley Cole's recovery from a thigh injury dragged on and his prospects of a recovery in time for Saturday's match against Paraguay looked worrying.

Gentle laps of the pitch were all Cole, 25, was permitted with the Arsenal and England physio Gary Lewin.

Sven Goran Eriksson said he was confident that the left-back would be able to train with the squad today, but after the season Cole has endured nothing can be taken as certain.

A broken metatarsal and a strained thigh have taken their toll. Cole watched the full-blooded match at the end of training sitting by the pitch.

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