Time for Cole and Co to up start­ing pace

USA won’t sit back and de­fend

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

ENG­LAND have been urged to lay down a World Cup marker when they take on the United States in their open­ing Group C match in Rusten­burg to­day.

Steven Ger­rard, who will cap­tain the side in the ab­sence of the in­jured Rio Fer­di­nand, be­lieves Fabio Capello’s squad are ready to make a ma­jor im­pres­sion on the tour­na­ment and the Liver­pool mid­fielder un­der­lined the im­por­tance of a pos­i­tive start.

“The first game is al­ways im­por­tant,” he said. “It is im­por­tant to stamp your mark on the tour­na­ment and let ev­ery­one know what you are about.”

Well-or­gan­ised and re­silient, the Amer­i­cans rep­re­sent Eng­land’s tough­est op­po­nents in a group that also in­cludes Slove­nia and Al­ge­ria.

“They are a good side but if we can get off to a good start and take max­i­mum points I think ev­ery­one will take note,” Ger­rard added.

“As a team the USA are very hard-work­ing, very fit and phys­i­cal. They will be try­ing to deny us time and space on the ball. They know we have qual­ity on the ball. We are ex­pect­ing to be pressed re­ally quickly. I’m sure it will be a good phys­i­cal bat­tle but we are very con­fi­dent we can win the match.

“I’m sure they are a lot more wor­ried about us.”

An im­pres­sive run of nine wins from 10 qual­i­fiers, dur­ing which they scored 34 goals, had raised hopes that, with the ben­e­fit of Capello’s win­ning pedi­gree, Eng­land will be able to go be­yond the quar­ter-fi­nal bar­rier at which they fell in the last two World Cups.

Re­cent weeks, how­ever, have not been en­cour­ag­ing for the tens of thou­sands of Eng­land fans who have flown into South Africa.

The per­for mances in friendly wins over Mex­ico and Ja­pan have been some way short of con­vinc­ing, the loss of Fer­di­nand is sig­nif­i­cant and Gareth Barry, a piv­otal player un­der Capello, will not be risked to­day, hav­ing only just re­cov­ered from an an­kle in­jury.

The United States’ qual­ity was un­der­lined by their run to the fi­nal of last year’s Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup and AC Mi­lan de­fender Oguchi Onyewu dis­missed sug­ges­tions that Bob Bradley’s squad would hap­pily set­tle for a draw.

“Our re­sults last year gained us a lit­tle more re­spect around the world and it gives you con­fi­dence you can com­pete with the best.

“The World Cup is a dif­fer­ent mon­ster of course and Eng­land are a good team but our ex­pec­ta­tion will still be to get a win.

“We will not be try­ing to frus­trate them for as long as pos­si­ble and try­ing to snatch a goal. We want to at­tack well as well as de­fend well and if we play the way we know we can we will have chances.”

Barry’s ab­sence will force Eng­land to field a reshuf­fled mid­field in which Ger­rard will be asked to play in a deeper role than he has been ac­cus­tomed to of late, repris­ing a cen­tral part­ner­ship with Frank Lam­pard that has pre­vi­ously al­ways added up to less than the sum of the two in­di­vid­u­als’ tal­ents.

That will mean Joe Cole com­ing in on the left with a brief to get for­ward and link with Wayne Rooney.

Cole was one of the few Eng­land play­ers to do him­self jus­tice in Ger­many four years ago, when Eng­land went out af­ter a quar­ter-fi­nal penalty shoot-out de­feat by Por­tu­gal, hav­ing failed to live up to all the hype that sur­rounded a sup­pos­edly golden gen­er­a­tion of play­ers.

Four years on, Eng­land’s hopes are in the hands of es­sen­tially the same group, but – older and pos­si­bly wiser – Ger­rard and his team­mates ap­pear con­fi­dent that, un­der Capello’s guid­ance, this time could be dif­fer­ent.

“This squad has got the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in tour­na­ments be­fore, it’s got a fit Wayne Rooney, a fit Steven Ger­rard and ev­ery­one is com­ing to that right age,” said Cole. “If we can have that bit of luck that you are go­ing to need, then we can go all the way.”

That theme was echoed by Ger­rard. “Ev­ery­one is des­per­ate to do well,” he said. “We want to de­liver at this tour­na­ment. We feel as if we’ve un­der­achieved over the years with the play­ers we have got.

“I look around the squad and that gives me con­fi­dence.

“But it is easy to talk the talk. The dif­fi­cult thing is to go out there and walk the walk.” KEY TO THE MATCH Wayne Rooney (Eng­land) v Jay De­Merit (USA) If Eng­land are to go deep into the knock­out stages of this tour na­ment, it is widely ac­cepted that Rooney must be at his best and stay on the pitch. A red card in the 2006 quar­ter-fi­nal proved fa­tal to their chances of get­ting past Por­tu­gal.

To­day’s match will pro­vide the first in­di­ca­tor of whether Rooney is ready to de­liver, in terms of form, fit­ness and dis­ci­pline.

De­Merit’s job will be to stop him and, de­spite their de­nials, the Wat­ford cen­tre-back and his fel­low de­fend­ers will in­evitably do their best to wind up Eng­land’s tal­is­man. – Sa­paAFP

FIT AND FIR­ING: Eng­land mid­fielder Joe Cole be­lieves that key squad mem­bers are at the right age and in the proper state of mind to do well in the World Cup.

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