FRANKFURT: An England team buzzing with confidence after the return of Wayne Rooney is determined to display its World Cup title credentials with a convincing opening victory over Paraguay on Saturday.
Rooney's happy reunion with his team-mates at England's team hotel and subsequent return to training has sent a fresh gust of optimism blowing through the squad on the eve of its Group B game against the South Americans. Even though Rooney is unlikely to feature until the second round, the very presence of the 20-year-old Manchester United in the camp has added to the players' belief that they can win the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.
``Just having Wayne here anyway in the first place and working with us was a big boost to the lads,'' said England captain David Beckham.
``But since he came back to the hotel and was passed fit for the tournament it's given everybody a lift. It's what we wanted, it's what the nation wanted so of course it's a big boost.''
Now Beckham said England is itching to lay down a marker to its rivals despite a long history of disappointing results in opening matches of major tournaments.
``We need to get off to a good start in this first game. We haven't done it in other competitions but hopefully it changes with this one. We're all ready now, we all want to get out there, start the games and get it going,'' Beckham said. ``It's been a long wait.''
England midfielder Steven Gerrard, who is expected to play despite describing himself as only '50-50' as he recovers from a hip problem, said the squad wanted to send a message to its rivals.
``We need to let everyone know we're here to win it, not just to take part,'' Gerrard said. ``It's important to get off to a good start, build on that and win the group. It sends the right message for the rest of the tournament.''
Gerrard also said Rooney's return had galvanised the squad.
``Obviously it's given us all a lift,'' said Gerrard. ``He's our best player and our most important player. Wayne's buzzing at the minute.''
Although England has beaten Paraguay on both previous occasions they have met, the South Americans field an experienced line-up that has reached the second round at the past two World Cups.
Beckham has come across several of their players, most notably Real Zaragoza's hard-tackling left-back Delio Toledo, and expects a physically demanding encounter.
``Playing against South American teams is very tough because they're physically strong but technically they've got some of the best players in the world too,'' said Beckham.
``So to come up against Paraguay is a tough game for us. They're very clever players and they know how to play the game, and they do it well.''
Paraguay's defence is marshalled by the experienced Carlos Gamarra, a veteran of two World Cups with more than 100 caps in the bank, but could be exposed by a noticeable lack of height.
That could prove decisive in the attempt to contain the aerial threat posed by England's beanpole striker Peter Crouch, who will tower head and shoulders above his markers.
Rooney's absence means Crouch is certain to partner Michael Owen at the attacking end of a 4-4-2 formation, which has left Paraguay scrambling for a strategy to deal with the 6ft 7in Liverpool lighthouse.
Paraguay's training sessions this week have seen its defenders bombarded with long balls and crosses, an acknowledgement of the threat posed by the combination of Beckham's pinpoint delivery and Crouch's height.
``Crouch is like nothing we have ever seen, particularly in terms of his aerial threat,'' said Paraguay coach Anibal Ruiz. ``He's obviously in very good form at the moment and we will have to make sure we deal with him.''
With fitness doubts over striker Roque Santa Cruz, England starts as strong favourite to get the win it needs against the South Americans.
Yet Ruiz is happy that Paraguay is playing one of the tournament favourites in its opening match and warned England it faces an awkward game. ``Straightaway we are coming up against one of the favourites,'' said Ruiz. ``It forces us to concentrate on every last detail. We want to measure ourselves against the best.
``We have studied England and, if they still think they are better than us, we will teach them a lesson.''
Likely line-ups: England: 1-Paul Robinson; 2-Gary Neville, 5-Rio Ferdinand, 6-John Terry, 3-Ashley Cole; 7-David Beckham, 8-Frank Lampard, 4-Steven Gerrard, 11-Joe Cole; 10-Michael Owen and 21-Peter Crouch; Coach: Sven-Goran Eriksson.
Paraguay: 1-Justo Villar; 4-Carlos Gamarra, 5-Julio Cesar Caceres, 21-Denis Caniza, 3-Delio Toledo; 16-Cristian Riveros, 10-Roberto Acuna, 13-Carlos Paredes, 6-Carlos Bonet; 18-Nelson Valdez and 23-Nelson Cuevas; Coach: Anibal Ruiz.
Referee: Marco Rodriguez (Mexico). Agencies