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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 20:44 GMT 21:44 UK
England set for big stage
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer in Baden-Baden

England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson
Eriksson is confident of success

England's players may be hidden away from the mounting World Cup fever at home and in Germany behind the closed doors of their headquarters near Baden-Baden - but nothing disguises the anticipation among Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad.

A succession of England players have faced the media and displayed an optimism not born out of bravado, but with a genuine belief that they will return home next month as world champions.

They know the weight of expectation they are carrying, and it is a burden they appear to be at ease with.

After following England in Japan in 2002 and in Portugal two years later, there was a grim inevitability about their eventual exit.

In Japan, class players like Gary Neville and Steven Gerrard were laid up at home and key figures such as David Beckham and Michael Owen were crucially short of fitness.

When they talked of victory in Japan and Korea it was clearly a hollow claim that was eventually exposed by Brazil.

And in Portugal, once the talismanic Wayne Rooney was injured, rather like England we sat back and waited for defeat.

Watching the players perform in training and in their dealings with the media, the mood in the camp is in stark contrast to those two losing campaigns.

Coach Eriksson has displayed an almost other-worldly relaxation, the cynics claiming his joviality is because he is demob-happy and glad to be finally ridding himself of the excess baggage that surrounds the England job.

A more realistic explanation may be that Eriksson knows his squad is in the frame of mind and body to allow him to leave the World Cup behind as a going-away present.

Rio Ferdinand
England's Rio Ferdinand shares a joke during a training session

England's open training session on Tuesday was sharp, competitive - occasionally too competitive as Wayne Bridge inadvertently left John Terry limping - and high class.

And the spirit in the squad spoke of real togetherness, with plenty of laughs amid the serious business of preparation to face Paraguay.

The feeling was one of the cold, hard reality that this England squad is in the mood to win the World Cup.

Eriksson himself is effectively an observer at training, holding a watching brief while Steve McClaren takes charge of drills, Sammy Lee referees practice matches - complete with customary criticism from the players - and Ray Clemence works the keepers.

England are currently an impressive unit, giving the impression that they could not have prepared better for the battles ahead.

It could all come crashing down, but the pieces are in place for a successful campaign.

Men like Neville, Paul Robinson, Terry and Frank Lampard can talk a good game - but they also appear to be men who are ready to play a good game.

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