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England's soccer team shuts out distractions in training camp

Coach Fabio Capello has England, which faces Mexico in an exhibition game Monday, focused as it prepares for the World Cup.

May 23, 2010|By Kevin Baxter

Reporting from London -- If oversized striker Peter Crouch was beginning to feel comfortable with his place on England's national soccer squad, it didn't take long for him to learn that comfort would have no place in the team's World Cup training camp.

Crouch's bags had not even arrived at the team hotel in the Austrian Alps before Coach Fabio Capello chewed him out for wearing slippers in the lobby. And a dress code is not the only thing that England's players have had to deal with at Camp Capello.

Cellphones have been banned, extra gym work has been added and visits by wives and girlfriends have been limited to one day a week.

Plus, anyone who does not show up 15 minutes early for a team meeting is considered late.

All of which is a sharp contrast to the country-club approach that England's last World Cup coach, Sven-Goran Eriksson, took four years ago.

"This time the atmosphere seems a lot more serious, a lot more focused," Crouch, a World Cup veteran and, at 6 feet 7, the tallest man to play for England, told the Times of London. "We're judged all the time. [Capello] doesn't miss a thing."

Like ordering his players to wear oxygen masks, even in the Alps, to get used to the thin air that they will deal with next month in South Africa.

It is attention to detail and discipline that team leader Wayne Rooney says has restored the confidence of a team that has made it as far as the semifinals just once since winning the World Cup title in 1966.

Whether any of that makes a difference could be answered, at least in part, when England returns to Wembley Stadium on Monday for a friendly against Mexico. The exhibition is the team's first since it opened training camp and, along with a game against Japan next week in Austria, is one of two tuneup matches that England will play before it meets the United States in its World Cup opener June 12.

Capello, a native of Italy, has to trim his roster by seven players by then, a job made a bit more difficult by questions surrounding the health of midfielder Gareth Barry, who damaged ankle ligaments in a club match this month. Barry is to be examined by a specialist Monday.

Also unknown is how much playing time superstar striker Rooney or captain Rio Ferdinand will get against Mexico. Rooney's ankle is still tender, the result of an injury sustained in March, while Ferdinand, a defender, has been bothered by back and groin problems. The status of both for Monday's game hinges, in large part, on the field conditions at Wembley, which Capello recently described as "terrible" — a lament so common at England's premier stadium that it has almost become cliche.

Don't expect England to hold back too much, though.

"I prefer to win. Always," Capello told reporters. "For that reason the 11 who play will be maybe not the first 11, but really good."

Which could be really bad for Mexico. Although Javier Aguirre's team hasn't lost in eight games this year, the competition has been questionable at best. And the environment has been nothing like what Mexico's young players will experience at Wembley, which is why Aguirre scheduled the match.

"I need to see them under pressure. I need to see them in Wembley," Aguirre said of his players, whose arrival in London from their German training base was delayed by plane troubles, forcing the cancellation of Sunday night's practice at the stadium. "I need to see them in tough games. I need them to demonstrate that they have the capacity to handle the pressure.

"Because we're going to open the World Cup. And we're going to have 90,000 people blowing horns. And we're going to have an entire country against us. And one billion people watching us on TV.

"That can make you shake in your boots."

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