Rio has feet on ground and hope held high

Given Rio Ferdinand's first tournament experience ended with England being feted at Luton airport despite being knocked out in the last 16 at France 98, it was perhaps refreshing to hear the England captain set the bar high yesterday.

On the flip side, Ferdinand's assertion that "We are going to South Africa to try and bring the trophy home," does smack a little of the premature triumphalism so often associated with the national team. Fortunately Ferdinand added caveats, noting, "We had a good reality check against Mexico [on Monday]. There is room for improvement."

While England have never gone as far as Scotland's infamous send-off to their disastrous 1978 campaign, when Ally McLeod's team had an open-top bus tour of Hampden Park, televised live, they have often headed off with a sense that the trophy is there for the taking. And usually come home after a quarter-final exit to the first decent team they meet.

Ferdinand said: "We are not going to be going into the tournament thinking 'get to the quarter-finals, semi-finals or final and we've done our job'. We'll only do ourselves justice by winning a tournament. No one gets remembered for finishing in the semi-finals or quarter-finals."

But, he added, "We are not the finished article, we know that, and I think that bodes well. I remember going into the last World Cup and we beat Jamaica by six and people thought we were going to be world-beaters. I don't think we looked at the bad points of that game. This time we've had a game we've won but there is still a lot of stuff to work on.

"In past tournaments, we've talked about how well we are going to do and really getting carried away with ourselves. There is a better sense of perspective in this squad. That also bodes well."

So there you have it: because England are not over-confident their captain is confident they will do well. To be fair, Ferdinand cannot win this exercise. Whatever he says faces being interpreted as defeatism or triumphalism. Besides, if England do not regard themselves as potential winners they will have no chance. Confidence is a key part of any team's game.

Ferdinand is going to his fourth World Cup, equalling Bobby Charlton (who did not play in his first, 1958, just as Ferdinand did not play in 1998). "You look at Sir Bobby as someone on a pedestal," said Ferdinand. "You aspire to be like him. To equal one of the many records he holds would be an achievement." It is the tournament he missed, however, that made the biggest impact on Ferdinand; Euro 2000 when he was one of the players cut from Kevin Keegan's final squad.

"I was embarrassed," he said. "My pride was hurt. I had to watch the team play and I was feeling in my head I should be there. But then I looked at myself and asked: 'Did I work hard enough to be there?' I took stock and evaluated. I trained harder, I thought about football more. I used to be on the clubbing scene all the time when I was young. A good night out now is a nice restaurant, having some food and a glass of wine."

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