Pressure gets to England before facing U.S.
The anxious outbursts by England coach Fabio Capello and his star striker Wayne Rooney this week are a fair indication that a U.S. victory on Saturday wouldn't be considered the World Cup upset that it was 60 years ago.
England's form and confidence has slumped following a stunning qualification campaign, and Capello and Rooney have let it show in the leadup to their South Africa 2010 opener against the Americans.
``The whole England team, I think, they're under extreme amounts of pressure,'' says U.S. goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann, who plays for English club Wolverhampton.
That's accepted by the players, who were hailed as being part of a ``Golden Generation'' of talent but have failed to advance past the quarterfinals in their previous two attempts to capture England's first World Cup title since 1966.
``We feel as if we've underachieved over the years with the players we have,'' England captain Steven Gerrard said. ``We must prove to people that we are a good side. At every major tournament, people always talk about us as one of the favorites. Now it is time to deliver.''
Gerrard said a victory would have to be attributed largely to Capello - the strict Italian who has stamped his authority on the England camp and banished player-power.
``He inspires the team with his winning mentality,'' Gerrard said. ``It's infectious and it is good disease to have. We realize how much he wants to win and we want to deliver for him.''
That passion was evident Wednesday as Capello angrily berated news photographers he believed were prying into the players' facilities at their Rustenburg complex. And Rooney's determination to end England's trophy drought was clear as he flew into a rage in a mere warmup match on Monday, earning a yellow card for reportedly cursing at the referee.
This is the Manchester United striker's chance to emerge as a truly world class player in a global tournament, and he's not expecting it to end in disgrace as it did in 2006 when he was sent off for stamping on an opponent.
``Wayne's confidence is sky high - physically he is in great shape and is coming off the back of an unbelievable season,'' Gerrard said. ``He is in the category of the best players and the stage is set for him to deliver because he can be England's main man and he can shoot us to glory. The players around him make sure he's aware of it.''
While Rooney will hope to exploit any deficiencies in the opposition defense on Saturday night in Rustenburg, the Americans - almost half of whom have English Premier League experience - are an emerging force.
``The USA are very hard working - very fit and physical,'' Gerrard said. ``They will be trying to deny us time and space on the ball. They know we have quality on the ball. We are expecting to be pressed really quickly. I'm sure it will be a good physical battle.''
And with memories of their surprise run to the Confederations Cup final last June still fresh, the Americans feel capable of repeating the 1-0 victory over a star-studded England in the 1950 tournament - the last World Cup meeting between the teams.
U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan is sensing a change in the mindset among England supporters, saying some who would have once considered a World Cup match against the United States a certain three points no longer have that confidence.
``When you think of the history of the World Cup, England is historically a team that has done relatively well, who have always gotten out of group and a country like the U.S., to them, is a guaranteed victory,'' he said. ``There (are) some (English) people that you can tell that there is a sense of nerves about them that, 'Uh oh. Maybe we could lose this game.'''
Spain can testify to that, having lost to the Americans in the Confederation Cup semifinals last year. And Brazil experienced a fright in the final, falling behind 2-0 before striking back to lift the trophy.
``Last year was helpful in that it gives us the belief that we can do something special here,'' said Donovan, who had a loan spell with Premier League club Everton earlier this year.
As they prepare for their sixth straight finals, the Americans have come a long way from the 2006 World Cup squad which failed to win a game.
``Against any team, we can compete and get a result. We have proven that in the last few years,'' U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu said. ``The USA are not a world power but can cause trouble to any team on any given day.''