Who knew when Fabio Capello subbed Joe Cole in for Wayne Rooney late in the match against Slovenia on Wednesday that the Manchester United star’s ankle was bothering him?
Rooney originally suffered the injury in the first leg of Manchester United’s Champions League tie with Bayern Munich at the end of March. Until then he was scoring goals almost at will. But he hasn’t been the same kind of striker since.
Nevertheless, the mere presence of Rooney on the pitch—even a less than 100% fit Rooney-- is cause for concern among opponents.
Perhaps it was best then that England fans were largely unaware of Rooney’s renewed ankle sensitivity, since panic among the faithful over their team’s malaise might have soared to new heights.
Word out of South Africa now, however, is that Rooney will be fit to face Germany on Sunday in their clash at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein. This will encourage the English support and undoubtedly the team as well.
Yet Rooney was judged fit to play against USA, Algeria and Slovenia, too, yet was largely invisible in England’s first two Group C matches. He did show some encouraging glimpses of his EPL persona in England’s final group match against Slovenia. But he hasn’t yet manifested the awesome striker that England hopes for and indeed expects.
That mantle may yet fall to him, for he is a special talent. Certainly Fabio Capello suggests this to be so.
"He is one of the most important players in the world," Capello said. "He played a good game against Slovenia. There was a fantastic assist for Steven Gerrard. He should do really well and I'm happy about his performance."
But if Rooney’s ankle continues to bother him Capello will be less happy, and may have to look to the Tottenham strike pairing of Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe for World Cup salvation.
The gangly Crouch has a surprisingly deft touch around the goal and is a commanding aerial threat. (He out-jumps opponents without so much as leaving the ground!) His 21 goals in 40 appearances for his country are proof enough that the big fellow is a worthy selection.
Defoe, on the other hand, is a pesky little poacher with drive and endeavor. Partnered with Rooney against Slovenia it was he who put England through to the knockout phase with his 23rd minute goal—his 13th in 42 appearances for England--off a perfect cross from James Milner.
Further complicating Fabio Capello’s selection process is the apparent injury to Aaron Lennon, who was benched in favor of Aston Villa’s James Milner when England met Slovenia.
It now seems likely that Milner would have gotten the call against Germany anyway. The Aston Villa man’s assist in the 1-0 victory over Slovenia was merely the highlight of his fine work on the flanks in that match.
In the rearguard West Ham’s Matthew Upson is likely to get the call to partner John Terry in the center again. Upson was brought in for the suspended Jamie Carragher (who himself had been brought in to replace the injured Ledley King) and played well against Slovenia.
King is training once again, but a start against the Germans, although undoubtedly desirable, would seem improbable.
Iconic German football legend Franz Beckenbauer unveiled his contempt for the English this week when he suggested they were “stupid” to have finished second in Group C, thus setting up tomorrow’s clash with his countrymen. He also suggested the English were burnt out players due to the number of games the EPL teams play in the course of a season.
Yet perhaps Beckenbauer’s most withering insult was that the English play “kick and rush” football.
What better way to fire up your rivals than to disparage them?
But counseling seems to have helped and now “der Kaiser” has apologized, blaming his scorn on a “bad mood,” and claiming that it was just his disappointment in the England team’s poor performances that caused it!
Word out the German camp is that Brazil born striker Cacau will be out of the match after pulling a stomach muscle in training. Miroslav Klose will be available again following suspension, however.
Bastian Schweinsteiger is also a concern for the England clash. Schweinsteiger’s defensive presence in midfield is surely counted upon to blunt to the enterprise of England’s attacking central midfielders, Lampard and Gerrard. Schweinsteiger is also a threat in the attack. He’ll be missed if he can’t play.
Other concerns for Germany boss Joachim Low include a back injury to Jerome Boateng and a supposed knock sustained by emergent star Mehmet Ozil. (Is it going too far to suggest that from this angle, or sometimes that, Ozil could pass for the offspring of an imaginary Marty Feldman-Peter Lorre union?)
England boss Capello and Germany captain Philipp Lahm share a historical perspective as they prepare to meet on Sunday.
Capello has already announced his primary penalty takers should any of the forthcoming matches end in a draw. Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney, Ashley Cole and John Terry are the men named.
The boss has had the team practicing penalties regularly, in anticipation of a shoot-out. England lost to Germany on penalties in Italy in the 1990 World Cup, and in Euro 96 in England. And since England’s two most recent international competitions both ended with defeats due to penalty kicks (against Portugal in Euro 2004, and Portugal again in World Cup 2006), Capello is wise to do all he can to avoid the prospect of history repeating itself.
Lahm, on the other hand, welcomes the notion of a penalty kick battle with the English. Given the steely, shoot-out resolve shown by his own countrymen in years past, Lahm’s assumption that his side would have the upper hand due to penalty kick fragility in the collective English psyche would seem well-placed.
In truth, however, Lahm, like Capello, would welcome a win in the allotted 90 minutes.