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Last Updated: Friday, 9 June 2006, 05:59 GMT 06:59 UK
Omens good for England
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer in Baden-Baden

England's World Cup history is littered with false dawns and missed opportunities since they last claimed the trophy at Wembley in 1966.

From the searing heat of Mexico in 1970 to Ronaldinho's freak winner in Shizuoka four years ago, England have failed to deliver the football trophy the nation wants most.

Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch
England have a new spring step in their step

So now we move to Germany 2006 and the question is being posed again - can England finally end the years of hurt and win the World Cup?

This long and winding tournament will contain many twists. Teams and players will emerge and favourites will fall by the wayside.

But a clinical examination of the facts as the countdown continues to Saturday's opener against Paraguay suggests that Sven-Goran Eriksson's England will never have a better chance to bring the World Cup home.

Brazil will pose a massive danger, with Ronaldinho in position to be the star of this World Cup show - but many pointers suggest England can be just as potent.

In contrast to Japan 2002, this England side is fitter and quite simply better - the world's most famous metatarsal apart.

Danny Mills and Trevor Sinclair were worthy professionals and honest performers in Japan, but they were not the men to win a World Cup for England.

David Beckham, desperately unfit in Japan, has a clean bill of health and has shone in the build up.

Michael Owen may be short of match-fitness, but he is building towards peak condition and delivers big goals in big games.

And in Steven Gerrard, with apologies to Frank Lampard, they have the finest midfield operator in Europe and a player on a mission to make up for Portugal two years ago when his mind was elsewhere - namely Chelsea.

Now his head is clear and his relationship with Liverpool is rock solid.

Gary Neville's return is massive plus, both as a leader and right-back, while John Terry can rightly take his place among the elite of European defenders.

The midfield balance still needs fine tuning, but Eriksson will trust his chosen four, with the improving Joe Cole making up the quartet, to shape England's game in Germany.

This is a squad that truly believes its time has come

Question marks remain about Peter Crouch's ability to trouble the best defences on the international stage, but with Rooney absent he has a crucial quality - namely he makes life easier for the master marksman Owen.

Spurs' goalkeeper Paul Robinson has developed into an outstanding performer, and his performances in front of the media have shown he is mature and focused individual.

England must respect Argentina, despite their recent 3-2 friendly victory, but fear will not come into the equation.

Past history has told us not to get too excited about England's chances, with the road to World Cup triumph proving a hazardous one in the past.

But the preparation near Baden-Baden has been perfect, on a magnificent surface in warm conditions on the edge of the Black Forest.

The players look fit, ready and in the mood to finally bring the trophy back.

Whether they can deliver is another question, but all the evidence so far suggests this is a squad that truly believes its time has come.



SEE ALSO
England team guide
22 May 06 |  England
World Cup profiles
29 May 06 |  England
Pick your England team
08 May 06 |  Squad selectors
World Cup schedule
25 May 06 |  Schedule
Have your say on the World Cup
28 Apr 06 |  Football
BBC World Cup coverage
27 Apr 06 |  BBC coverage
Rooney return sparks euphoria
08 Jun 06 |  England
England v Paraguay
27 Apr 06 |  World Cup 2006


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