Fabio Capello has reassured England fans that striker Wayne Rooney is fit and strong enough to last 120 minutes if needed against Germany in the last 16 of the FIFA World Cup™.
Manchester United striker Rooney has been criticised for below-par performances in the tournament so far and caused further anxiety when he was substituted against Slovenia in England's final group game because of an ankle problem. He has recovered well since then, with Joe Cole claiming his team-mate has been back to his very best on the training field, and Capello expects a big performance from Rooney in Sunday's last-16 clash with Germany in Bloemfontein.
When asked if the striker was fit enough to last not just 90 minutes but also extra-time if necessary the England manager was unequivocal, saying: "He's OK, no problems. He is perfect. It was just a knock." That one phrase will come as a huge boost to England because Rooney has always been regarded as the player to make his country tick and he has been under intense scrutiny in South Africa.
He has failed to score in the tournament so far and was involved in controversy when he appeared to criticise fans for booing their team off the pitch following a goalless draw against Algeria. However it appears he has been swiftly forgiven by both fans and manager, enjoying chants of 'Rooooney' during England's victory over Slovenia as well as backing from Capello.
The pressure on Rooney against Germany will be all the more intense because of the rivalry between the two countries. England lost on penalties to the Germans in the semi-finals of Italia 90 and UEFA EURO 96 but can also look back on victories in EURO 2000 and of course the 1966 FIFA World Cup Final. But Capello is anxious not to build the hype. "To go forward you have to beat all the teams," he said. "Germany is one of those teams, not more. I respect Germany but I think also Germany respects us."
England captain Steven Gerrard, who scored in England's opening game against the United States, believes his revitalised team will take another step forward against the Germans after having made such a slow start to their campaign. "These are the games when you need to stand up and be counted. It's the stage that growing up you want to be playing at," he said.
"There could be a moment in the game at any time that could come to define a player's career. You look forward to it, it's a fantastic game to play in and everyone is excited. The plan as captain is to lead this team as far as I can. Yes, I got the captaincy under difficult circumstances but it's my responsibility now and I'm enjoying it. I would love nothing better than to win this game and take the team into the quarter-finals."