PORT ELIZABETH, June 23 – After a stuttering start England are finally ready to take off at the third attempt in South Africa and qualify for the World Cup last 16, manager Fabio Capello and captain Steven Gerrard insisted here on Tuesday.
The pair delivered their prediction on the eve of their closing Group C game against Slovenia – a game they must win to guarantee their passage to the second round after draws with the United States and Algeria.
England’s build-up to Wednesday’s showdown has been overshadowed by former captain John Terry’s failed mutiny over Capello’s strict regime and the Italian’s decision not to play Joe Cole, one of the best players for England in 2006.
When asked about ‘Terrygate’ Capello said: "I’m focused on tomorrow’s game. The players trained very well this morning. The game tomorrow is really very important, it’s not about what one player has talked about.
"The other thing (Terry’s criticism) is out of the minds of the players, I see that they are all focused on the match."
Gerrard sang from the same hymn sheet.
"I watched a recording of Terry’s interview, he’s said what he’s said, now it’s time to move on.
"We’ve got a very important game tomorrow, it’s a do or die game for us. we need to perform and improve on our last performance – we’re going to do that, our training was very sharp this morning."
Gerrard insisted none of the players had put any pressure on Capello to pick Cole.
"He (Capello) picks the team he thinks is best to do the job. The players are not in a position to question who he picks."
One of the major disappointments of England’s lacklustre World Cup campaign up to now has been the below par form of Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney.
Capello backed his misfiring forward to come right in Port Elizabeth.
"I’ve spoken a lot of times with Rooney.
"He’s an important player, like Steve here, one of the best players in the world.
"Sometimes the pressure is so big for these big players…
"Rooney has improved in training in the last two or three days, he will play tomorrow really well."
England’s showing in their two games so far in South Africa has been a shadow of the performances they were putting in to qualify for the World Cup.
Questioned on the drastic drop in form Gerrard said: "In our last two games we stopped doing what we had been doing before. In qualifying we were impressive, we were compact, quick – against Algeria (last Friday) we had things missing from our game.
"Tomorrow hopefully we will have those things back – things like our cutting edge in the final third – and get the goals we need."
The Liverpool skipper was convinced England would come good against Slovenia.
"I’ve already seen signs in our training sessions in the last few days. I saw the hurt in the players from Algeria, we let our country down, I see the players’ hunger, we can’t wait to put it right, we haven’t enjoyed all the criticism we’ve received."
After the limp goalless stalemate against Algeria in Cape Town a section of England’s fans booed the team off the pitch – Gerrard said he could understand the supporters’ feelings.
"Yes I can understand why they did that. They came here with high expectations. There are a lot of fans out here, they’ve paid good money.
"But we are accepting our responsibilities, we want to change the perception of what we’ve done so far and want to make the nation proud and happy."