James Lawton: Pinch of salt with Beckham's words

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The Independent Online

Now let's get at least some of this straight. England are in great shape going into the European Championship because... er...

Now let's get at least some of this straight. England are in great shape going into the European Championship because... er...

Well, Sven Goran Eriksson has devised this wonderful preparation for the coming challenge. He has flown a fitness expert in to give the players seven-mile runs at the end of a season which he frequently tells us is far too demanding in the first place. One immediate consequence was that Japan ran us off our feet on Tuesday night. However, we will be buzzing against the reigning champions France in Lisbon a week tomorrow.

The coach ordered a day without ball work despite the fact that England's midfielders look as though they are waiting to be introduced. Maybe we can draw comfort from the fact that, according to David Beckham and Gary Neville, they were fantastic for 35 minutes against the Japanese. It was the best Neville had seen an England team play.

Beckham also thinks that we should encourage the spirit of Wayne Rooney, who in one loutish moment invited a sending off. Passion, we are told, is what we have to nourish in a kid whose manner currently suggests less the shining hope of England than a soulmate of Harry Enfield's Kevin. Says the captain: "If Wayne had a problem I'm sure he would talk to me, other players or the manager. You have to remember he is only 18." Without being too cynical, we have to ask: how old was Beckham when his girlish kick at an Argentinian player reduced England to 10 men in the 1998 World Cup? Twenty-three.

Still need reassurance? The captain, again: "A lot of the players get that feeling: 'This is it'. I also experienced it during the World Cup, although on that occasion it didn't happen." Smelling salts, anyone?

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