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Rooney England's main concern

RUSTENBURG, June 24- There were some weary-looking bodies at England's training camp here on Thursday as Fabio Capello's squad began the countdown to a World Cup showdown with Germany.The Three Lions’ gutsy 1-0 win over Slovenia has kept their campaign in South Africa alive but it was not enough for them to top group C, with the result that they will now face their arch rivals in Bloemfontein on Sunday.

That is not how it was planned when England opted to make the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus their base in South Africa in anticipation of topping the group and playing their second round match down the road in Rustenburg.

After what was a nerve-shredding encounter with the Slovenians played at a very high tempo, England’s players arrived back at their base at 11.00pm on Wednesday after a flight back from Port Elizabeth.

They will be on the road again on Saturday morning for the journey to Bloemfontein, 400km (250 miles) south of Rustenburg.

It represents a far from ideal build-up to the biggest game England have played since their quarter-final defeat by Portugal in Germany four years ago.

And there is no doubt Capello would prefer to be in the boots of the United States, whose last-gasp winner against Algeria ensured they face Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday.

But with Wayne Rooney battling to recover from an ankle injury that resulted in him being substituted 20 minutes from the end of the Slovenia match, an extra day to prepare for their second round match could prove to be a blessing in disguise.

"Okay, Ghana would have been better, but Rustenburg has not exactly been a lucky ground for us," one England insider said in a reference to the blunder by goalkeeper Robert Green that gifted the United States an equaliser in the side’s opening match here.

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"The state we’re in, we would probably take the extra day’s recovery."

Capello has expressed confidence that Rooney will be able to start against the Germans in the first World Cup meeting between the two countries since England lost a semi-final penalty shoot-out at Italia 90.

"I don’t know exactly what he’s got but I’m not concerned," the Italian said. "I think he’ll be okay."

The concern in the England camp will be that the injury Rooney suffered in a Champions League match against Bayern Munich at the end of March has recurred.

Outstanding all season for Manchester United up until that match, Rooney has not looked the same player since and has failed to score in nine matches for club and country.

The striker came agonisingly close to opening his World Cup account on Wednesday when Slovenia goalkeeper Samir Handanovic’s fingertips diverted his shot on to the post and his all round contribution was a significant improvement on his unusually subdued displays against the United States and Algeria.

Still there are suspicions that all is not well with England’s most important player and he cut a subdued figure on Thursday as the players who were involved for most of the previous evening’s match trudged back to their rooms to rest after a brief address from Capello at the start of training.

Aaron Lennon and Michael Carrick, both of whom have ankle problems, were unable to train but Ledley King was able to do outdoor work, suggesting the Tottenham defender may yet have a chance of playing again in the tournament.

King, who is restricted from training normally by a chronic knee condition, started England’s first match but was forced off at half-time with a groin injury.

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His replacement, Jamie Carragher, missed the Slovenia match through suspension after picking up two yellow cards. The Liverpool defender may now have to settle for a place on the bench against Germany after Matthew Upson acquitted himself well alongside the outstanding John Terry in Port Elizabeth.


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