Month June 2010

Month June 2010

World Cup Rant Cast – pundits beware!

June 29, 2010 Tags: , Rant Cast 14 comments

In the second edition of World Cup Rant Cast, regulars Ed & Paul look at the best and worst of the tournament so far. Pundits beware as the team launches a scathing attack on the quality of TV coverage. On the pitch we discuss the best goals, players, major incidents and Rant’s assessment of United players at the tournament.

For hard core England-haters look away now – there is, inevitably, a lenghty discussion of England’s humiliating failure in South Africa; the root and branch review that the FA will never conduct.

Stream this episode of the podcast using the player below or click here to download the podcast (right click > save as).

We welcome your input – send all feedback to or comment below.

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Glazers: no problem selling season tickets…

June 29, 2010 Tags: , Shorts 6 comments

… then why the desperate spate of emails, telemarking calls and the laughable season ticket waiting list booklet?

Then there are the anecdotes of begging calls to former executive seat holders, many of which are believed to have given up their facilities. For its part senior management at United claims satisfaction at current sales, after launching an aggressive marketing campaign warning executive seat and season ticket holders to renew before the 31 May and 13 June deadlines.

Even more curious then that the club has made so much of its famed waiting list – now proven as little more than a marketing database – with the wait for season tickets, literally, minutes.

The end of an era

June 29, 2010 Tags: , Opinion 7 comments

In 1994 Manchester United’s players of the era, including the club’s longest ever serving club captain Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Steve Bruce, the great Dane Peter Schmiechel and Eric Cantona produced a single alongside Rock heavyweights Status Quo. The track hit number one, much like the team, who won the Premier League.

It was the early days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s quest to ‘knock Liverpool off their perch’. Indeed, the success of United’s early-90s team was bred in a squad littered with great players, with this new-found glory sewing the seeds of Ferguson’s future triumphs and giving rise to the golden generation of Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, the Neville brothers and others.

Recently exposed to ‘Come on You Reds’ via the delights of MTV offers a reminder, albeit clichéd and unrepresentative, of just how far Ferguson’s ’94 team has evolved.

This, of course, is partly attributed to the rise of foreign footballers within the game. Where previous David May was an acceptable benchwarmer, local squad players have largely been replaced by imports such as Fabio and Park Ji-Sung. Neither of these players quite match Wayne Rooney or Cantona before him but are integral to the gradual improvement of the squad.

The English national team was once packed with United’s talent; it is now filled with players from across the Premier League. While English connection has very much subsided, the feel of Old Trafford’s United Nations has increased.

Whether this trend is linked to United’s disappointing season remains to be seen. What is clear is that the team of ’94 lived and breathed success, where today Ferguson’s side not only lacks the superstars of yesteryear but the traditional style once associated with the club.

The basic 4-4-2 system has departed for the continental 4-5-1 or 4-3-3.  Lower-profiles of players such as Michael Carrick have replaced the big egos of Schiemichel, Keane, Cantona and Lee Sharp. And the mouth-watering , and the mouth-watering starting eleven has dissipated for a focus on the defensive tendencies of modern football.

Even at the forefront of world football – the World Cup – the bus has been parked on one too many occasions. So much so that even BBC pundit and Wolves manager Mick McCarthy has shown his displeasure and he’s one of the worst culprits in the Premier League.

The last fragments of United’s ’94 team are slowly ebbing away. Scholes has stated this may in fact be his last season as a player. Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville cannot continue much longer. Where will the replacements be found?

Indeed, the success of earlier squads was founded on a British element at the core of the team. Arsenal’s shortcomings in the Premier League  over the past five season might be correlated to a lack of true passion for the British game. When Liverpool ALMOST made it back to the big time two years ago Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard nearly drove  Rafa Benitez’ team to success, not Albert Riera or Alvaro Arbeloa.

Not that national heritage should determine players’ inclusion in the United side but every efforts needs to be made to give the young homegrown players at the club a real chance at making the first team. Few have made it in recent seasons.

Ryan Shawcross, as one example, will no doubt grace the steps at Wembley as a fully fledged England defender but found chances at Old Trafford hard to come by. Even imports brought to the club have been lost. Lessons must be learned from the early release of  world-beater Gerrard Piqué, who was sold far too early for a price lower than that paid for Zoran Tošić.

Whilst not every generation can contain a player of ’94 club captain Robson’s class and leadership, United fans do wish a few more superstars in the current team.

United’s ’94 single is cheesy but the characters are remembered. How many of the 2010 side will also be recalled with affection in 15 years time?

United legend Keane lashes out at ‘average’ England stars

June 29, 2010 Tags: , International 5 comments

Former Manchester United captain Roy Keane has lashed out at England manager Fabio Capello’s critics, delivering a player-by-player rating of the national side’s humiliating World Cup failure. Ipswich Town manager Keane derides the England squad as average, shorn of ‘World Class’ players bar Wayne Rooney.

“To keep criticising the manager is crazy. Capello is a brilliant manager,” said Keane said, who made 480 appearances for United.

“The players have to look at themselves. They get away with murder.

“You say that the players are good individuals in the Premier League, but tell me who they are?

“I think Wayne Rooney had a brilliant season. You look at the goalkeepers, I thought David James at Portsmouth, they didn’t have a good season and the other one, Green, at West Ham [United] they just about stayed up.

“Glen Johnson at Liverpool did okay, they had a poor season. John Terry had his issues, I don’t think he had a great season.

“Chelsea won the double but that was down to some world class attacking players. Upson, who played yesterday, West Ham didn’t have a great season.

“Ashley Cole’s just come back from injury to be fair to the boy. [Steven] Gerrard didn’t have a great season at Liverpool, James Milner had a good season.

“[Gareth] Barry I thought was very average for Manchester City this year. [Emile] Heskey started the season up-front for Aston Villa and he got three goals.

“You keep talking about these world class players, and they’re not. Wayne has the best chance but he still hasn’t done it on the world stage.”

Thankfully United > England

June 27, 2010 Tags: , International 11 comments

As England crashed out of the World Cup in the most humiliating fashion perhaps the best consolation for those Reds following the national side is that Manchester’s finest will always be bigger. England’s ‘Golden Generation’ has evolved since Sven Goran Eriksson’s side lost to Brazil in 2002 but the squad’s nucleus remains.

It’s a squad that has now failed five tournaments in a row. The Fool’s Golden Generation.

England’s non-performance in South Africa is perhaps the worst of any in the last decade, bar the side’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 under the hapless Steven McClaren. Poor against USA, abject in the draw against Algeria, England were little better than mediocre in the scrappy 1-0 win over the tournament’s smallest country Slovenia.

Then came today’s dénouement with Capello’s side taken to pieces by a vastly superior Germany. Out-passed, manoeuvred and thought, England resorted to bringing goal-shy forward Emile Heskey into the action at 4-1 down. If ever a substitution summed up England’s utter incompetence.

Supporters can point to Frank Lampard’s goal-that-never was, with Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda inexplicably missing the Chelsea midfielder’s shot that bounced off the crossbar and then a yard behind the line. In truth any complaints about the officials is a red herring, with John Terry and Matthew Upson performing their best Chuckle Brothers impression for the full 90.

For all Fabio Capello’s previously trophy-laden CV – in the 1990s at least – even the 64-year-old Italian failed to extract more from this group than McClaren or Eriksson before him. Indeed, Eriksson’s side made the quarter-finals of major tournaments in 2002, 2004 and 2006, which is about par for the course over England’s international history.

Indeed, something deeply troubling emerged from this tournament with the players’ almost universally down-tempo performances unveiling a deep unhappiness within the squad.

On taking the post more than two years ago Capello argued that the English played with fear. On today’s evidence they have no belief, , shape, confidence or talent either.

The perennial debate in England will now move on to why national team’s players supposedly under-perform for England when compared to their clubs. It’s a question, however, that particularly misses the point this time out. Of the starting XI against Germany only Wayne Rooney – who looked distinctly unfit in South Africa – the aforementioned Lampard and James Milner had outstanding seasons for their clubs.

Indeed, ‘keeper David James, right-back Glen Johnson and central defenders Terry and Upson each had campaigns to forget in domestic football. It showed today, with the BBC’s Alan Hansen given plenty of cause to discuss England’s ‘schoolboy’ defending post-match.

Perhaps the truth of England’s failure is closer to the quality, or lack thereof, demonstrated in the team’s performances during this tournament. It’s a poor team, with a distinctly average set of players that Capello has failed to gel into something greater than the sum of its parts. The stubborn addiction to a system that restricted too many of England’s limited pool of talent is just one of Capello’s major failings in South Africa.

Which brings us back to Sir Alex Ferguson’s United. The United manager has, with ever dwindling transfer funds, managed to squeeze every last ounce out of an ageing squad last season. The proud Scot has turned down England on three occasions but there is no doubt this England group, although limited in world terms, would have benefited from Ferguson’s continuing magic.

The Football Association, having successfully negotiated an end to Capello’s mid-contract break clause, may now live to regret that decision. It’ll cost the FA about £12 million to sack the Italian when the board holds its biannual inquest into English failure at a major tournament later this summer. His replacement certainly won’t be Ferguson this time either.

With the ineffective Rooney now off on a well-earned holiday, and Park Ji-Sung and Javier Hernandéz also knocked out in the round of 16, United now has no representative’s in South Africa. Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Nani didn’t play a minute in the tournament, while Patrice Evra, Nemenja Vidic and Zoran Tosic left South Africa in the group stages. It bodes well for the squad’s freshness next season.

As for England – we’ll return to the same debate about the side’s failure when it is inevitably knocked out of Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine in two years time.

If Roy Hodgson’s team makes it that far of course.

Constrained Reds say it aint so Joe

June 23, 2010 Tags: Opinion 22 comments

Manchester United has ruled out a bid for former Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole according to reports yesterday. But is United’s stance due to Sir Alex Ferguson’s reluctance to sign the midfielder or the club’s perilous financial position? Cole, a free agent, reportedly wants a £3 million signing on fee plus more than £100,000 per week.

Chelsea released Cole, 28, after the player failed to agree a new contract with the London club. The midfielder has fallen down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, not only on the pitch but in the pay scale too. However, with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich having pumped more than £700 million into the club the Russian is reportedly insistent that the Carlo Ancelotti’s outfit becomes self-sufficient.

The race for Cole’s signature is now between Arsenal and Tottenham, with the player having begun his career at West Ham under Spurs coach Harry Redknapp. Chelsea signed the player for £6.6m in 2003 following West Ham’s relegation from the Premier League.

Cole, who scored 52 times in 396 appearances for Chelsea, has also hit 10 in 54 England caps. But a long-term knee injury ruined much of his season, with the international making 39 appearances for the club.

Tactically Cole offers creativity both from the flanks and central areas. Although predominantly used from the left side of an attacking triumvirate at Chelsea over the past seven seasons, Cole can also operate from central areas. Indeed, Fabio Capello deployed the player in that position during England’s recent friendly against Japan.

Meanwhile Ferguson can call on a plethora of midfield options next season. Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Darron Gibson, Anderson and Owen Hargreaves will compete for three central midfield slots. The Scot will also choose from Antonio Valencia, Nani, Park Ji-Sung, Ryan Giggs and potentially Gabriel Obertan in wide areas next season.

But many United supporters will find the club’s stance unusual, with Ferguson long known as an admirer of the attacking midfielder who scored the winning goal for Chelsea at Old Trafford in April. After all, although the Scot has significant numbers of midfielders on his books the shortage of central midfield creativity last season was palpable.

Scholes’ excellent form during the final weeks of the campaign masked a rash of age-induced poor performances during the winter months. Indeed there are question marks hanging over the club’s central midfielders, with Carrick out-of-form, Anderson and Hargreaves injured, Scholes now 35 and Gibson yet to prove his quality at the highest level.

United’s stance leaves fans wondering weather financial constraints have played a part in the club’s decision not to bid for the 28-year-old player. After all, although no transfer fee is due to Chelsea the player will command a significant signing-on bonus plus wages near the top of United’s pay scale.

The club’s £720 million debt has already eaten into Ferguson’s transfer budget, with less than half the cash banked by selling Cristiano Ronaldo last summer spent to date, let alone the £25 million per season transfer budget promised by the Glazers in 2005.

Many analysts believe that the Glazer family will also remove up to £95 million cash from the club’s reserves at some point this summer, with interest on family’s the so-called Payment in Kind (PIK) debt increasing to 16.5 per cent in August. The January bond also enables the family to remove up to 50 per cent of United’s profits on an ongoing basis in addition to the £45 million per season debt interest payable.

Further evidence of pay restrictions at the club come from the failure to offer either Wayne Rooney or Nemanja Vidić a new deal. Officially the Old Trafford hierarchy postponed Rooney’s contract talks until after the World Cup, with the striker looking for a significant pay rise on his £90,000 per week deal that runs to 2012. That Rooney, one of the world’s leading players, does not feature in the top 25 best paid stars in Europe is significant.

While few fans will countenance Rooney’s departure from the club this summer, Vidić’s position is far more precarious. Although the Serbian international has repeatedly said he wants to stay at Old Trafford the club’s failure to match his pay demands is likely to drive the 28-year-old defender out of Manchester. Vidić reportedly wants parity with Rio Ferdinand on £120,000 per week, which is now unlikely the club will meet.

It leaves United supporters wondering weather the club’s failure to land the best talent will now be compounded by significant departures from the playing staff.

Fergie – England playing with tension

June 22, 2010 Tags: , International No comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed details of the tension-ridden England World Cup camp in a US radio interview, as the Scot again called on the Premier League to adopt a mid-winter break. Ferguson, speaking to US radio station Sirius XM, says that the weight of expectation is weighing heavily on England players’ shoulders.

“I spoke to Wayne and I just said: ‘Relax and enjoy it,’” Ferguson said.

“I just sensed there was a tension in and around the camp from what I was hearing. I didn’t watch the Algeria game but I just get a feeling that the expectation is affecting the England team. Sometimes the expectation can be debilitating in terms of getting the players to perform to the levels required to get through their group.”

Ferguson also says that an exacting English season, which does not feature a winter break favoured on the continent, may adversely affect players’ performances in South Africa.

“The season we have in Europe, particularly in England, is tough,” the Scot added.

“Then the players all met up three or four days after the season finished and they have been together for most of that time, after a long, hard season. It’s a real task to ask players to perform at the best level they can after a season in England.

“Germany always take that month-long break in January.”

Captain Evra central to French implosion

June 21, 2010 Tags: , , International 1 comment

Prior to the World Cup’s start French coach Raymond Domenech awarded Patrice Evra the national team captaincy. The honour came with Thierry Henry’s fading star; Manchester United’s left-back replacing Les Bleus’ legend at the national side’s helm. With the team and coach at war, Evra may prefer the relative quiet of defensive duties.

How quickly the dream turns to dust.

French in-fighting, hardly new, began before the tournament’s start with William Gallas objecting to Evra’s premature promotion. The Arsenal defender, now the team’s senior player, instilled a tournament-long media boycott in protest at the apparent insult by Domenech.

More followed disquiet followed, with Chelsea winger Florent Malouda exchanging heated – reportedly bordering on violent – words with Domenech before being consigned to the bench for Les Bleus’ first match again Uruguay match.

Malouda’s anger just another expression of long-held antipathy for Domenech’s regime both inside the squad and among the wider public. Aside from alienating a series of senior players, the erratic coach is widely considered too studious, too closely wedded to the Fédération Française de Football (FFF) after years with both the Under-21s and national team.

Worse followed with Domenech’s team performing more akin to strangers than former world champions against Uruguay a week last Saturday.

Then, with France held scoreless at half-time against Mexico on Thursday night Nicolas Anelka, dubbed Le Sulk for good reason, let the frustration boil-over and reportedly called Domenech “the son of a whore” as egos within the camp reached breaking point.

The French lost, with new United recruit Javier Hernandéz scoring a stunning opener as Javier Aguirre’s side recorded a well-deserved 2-0 win in Group A.

Anelka’s confrontation had reached the morning papers as Friday’s news broke, the FFF sent the Chelsea striker home after Le Sulk refused to apologise when asked to by Fédération president Jean-Pierre Escalettes.

Domenech supported the FFF, much to his players’ disgust.

“Nobody can behave in such a way in the dressing room or elsewhere and high-level sportsmen and women have to lead by example through football,” said 58-year-old coach.

By Sunday little short of total war had been declared at Knysna, the French base for the tournament, as Evra confronted fitness coach Robert Duverne with both the accusation of leaking the Anelka tirade to the press and news of an impending players’ strike.

Evra’s accusation that a “traitor” – later denied as Duverne by the left-back – within the camp deliberately contravened the unwritten law of the dressing room by revealing the inner-most secrets of squad conversations.

Within hours the entire squad, now refusing to train, effectively forced Domenech to issue a demand on the players’ behalf for Anelka’s immediate return.

“The players are unanimously against the FFF’s decision to expel Nicolas Anelka,” said the statement.

The row, which has ended Anelka’s international career, will also bring the curtain down on Domenech’s era in shame, possibly as early as Tuesday when France play hosts South Africa in Bloemfontain. The coach is being replaced by former United defender Laurent Blanc after the World Cup ends.

“The players don’t want to train, it’s a scandal,” the FFF’s team director and FFF managing director Jean-Louis Valentin said, resigning in disgust at Sunday’s strike.

“It’s a scandal for French people, for the youngsters who came here to watch them train. I’m resigning, I’m leaving the Federation. I have nothing more to do here. I’m going back to Paris.”

When the French blow-up it goes nuclear.

But Evra’s part runs further than his role as the not wholly popular new captain, even aside from the training ground confrontation with Duverne. Although not the ring-leader in total mutiny, Evra supported leading players – thought to be stars “past their prime,” including deposed captain Thierry Henry, the aforementioned Gallas and Malouda.

“A rebellion? No, a caprice. A strike? No, cowardliness. Don’t deceive yourself. The republican solidarity that our players showed the world yesterday is an illusion,” ran the lead editorial in French sports newspaper L’Equipe.

“Evra has once and for all shown that he has muddled up the role of captain with that of a gang leader.”

Domenech today held a press conference without his captain Evra, with suggestions now circulating that the United left-back will be stripped of both the captaincy and his place in Les Bleus’ side.

It is perhaps then with some irony that Evra’s leadership has now brought new unity to a camp riven with divisions over personnel, tactics and the coach’s role – even if that solidarity is based on a mutual hatred of the coach and federation.

Training today behind closed-doors, the French squad now faces a make-or-break fixture against the hosts tomorrow, with Uruguay and Mexico requiring only a draw to end France’s run in the tournament.

Most French fans it seems will be supporting the Africans.

All bar Rooney impervious to criticism

June 21, 2010 Tags: , , International 8 comments

Perhaps the most shocking element of the fallout from England’s meek performances at the World Cup is not that striker Wayne Rooney has borne the brunt of criticism but that so few others have been singled out, let alone stepped forward to shoulder any responsibility for failure. Rooney alone is now the media’s principal target.

Fabio Capello’s decision to drop goalkeeper Rob Green for England’s match against Algeria Friday night has ended that debate and in turn increased the pressure on Rooney.

Indeed, Rooney’s performances in South Africa have been quiet in the face of minimal support from midfield or the English flanks. Dropping ever deeper against Algeria, Rooney reverted to the striker of years past in a desperate attempt to bring himself into the game when others could not.

But while the media – and especially England fans – have largely heaped the pressure on Manchester United’s 34-goal striker, England’s troubles lie elsewhere in the mediocrity of a poor quality team and manager resistant to change.

In the match against Algeria, as the with England’s draw with the USA, Capello’s side failed to retain possession of the ball; the English disease. While former Germany great Franz Beckenbauer exaggerated the depths of England’s travails – calling Cappello’s tactics “kick and rush” – the side’s age-old inability to retain the ball while maneuvering opponents out of position again came to the fore.

Defensively more secure against the North Africans than in England’s previous World Cup match, Capello’s team was still unable to assert any significant assault on the Algerian net. Resorting first to hitting hapless forward Emile Heskey from back-to-front, the English then worked the channels to no great effect, eschewing any attempt to play through midfield.

While Capello made the sensible decision to break up the ego-laden partnership of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard for Friday’s draw, neither that celebrated pair nor the returning Gareth Barry offered any creativity from midfield, let alone a decent pass to a team-mate.

Meanwhile Tottenham Hotspur’s normally dangerous Aaron Lennon was reduced to cutting inside and playing a square ball rather than taking on his opponent.

Unsurprisingly Capello has retained both the formation and personnel that qualified for the World Cup so impressively. The Italian’s record of domestic success and apparent ability to turn around England’s fortunes following Steve McClaren’s shambolic reign earned the 64-year-old the right to stick firmly to plan A.

But it’s a system that uses few of England’s better players in their club positions. Rooney, now the lone forward at Old Trafford, is asked to drop a little deeper with England. Gerrard, frequently used just behind the road-running Fernando Torres at Anfield, is now consigned to the left-wing. Even Frank Lampard normally operates from the security of a three-man Chelsea midfield.

Little wonder then that Rooney has been presented with so few half chances in two matches to date, let alone a genuine opportunity to release the pressure.

Why then such heavy criticism laid at the Scouser’s door when neither Gerrard nor Lampard have shone to date? After all should Capello, as some English media and supporters are now clamoring for, drop the United striker it is hardly going to help the team retain the ball.

There is of course far greater focus on what Cristiano Ronaldo yesterday called “the big players” – he should know having failed to score for Portugal during open play for nearly two years. On the team’s best player lies the burden of responsibility.

There is also a strong element within the English supporter base that has no love for United’s representatives within the squad – even Rooney.

The sensible – perhaps even safe – option for Capello in England’s final group game against Slovenia on Wednesday afternoon is to go with plan B, and restore the player’s preferred 4-3-3 formation against the Eastern Europeans.

John Terry’s rapidly aborted attempt at a players’ coup yesterday not only revealed the Chelsea-player’s Sir Colin Campbell-esque denial that he is no longer captain but also a widespread belief that restoring the majority of England’s best players to their club positions is the route to success.

After all, using Rooney as England’s principal forward cannot yield fewer results than Heskey has to date no matter how far the United man has under-performed. Nor can pushing Gerrard into ‘the hole’ behind United’s striker isolate the Liverpool-captain any further. Bringing Joe Cole into the left-side of a three man attack will also add much needed variety to England’s play.

Perhaps most importantly the switch will surely liberate Rooney to perform as he has for United all season.

The alternative – the media’s option – is to drop England’s best player, in one fell swoop securing his status as preferred scapegoat while ensuring the English return home even earlier than many expected.

United lads look to World Cup games with hope

June 17, 2010 Tags: , , , International No comments

Patrice Evra, Ji-Sung Park and Wayne Rooney face crucial World Cup fixtures over the next two days. While Korea beat Greece, both Rooney and Evra suffered disappointing opening draws. Amid stories of fighting in the French camp and English press criticism, only Park’s Korea, who face Argentina today, play without pressure.

South Korea captain Park faces his good friend and former Manchester United team-mate Carlos Tevez today, as new tournament favourites Argentina look to build on a opening win over Nigeria. The lunchtime kick-off at Soccer City Johannesburg could go a long way to deciding which team wins Group B.

But friendship, which has remained despite the players now on opposite sides of the city, is set aside for the fixture, says the Korean.

“We have played together and I think it is great that we will play against each other, but this is not just a friendly, this is the greatest place to play football,” Park told Sky Sports.

“We are both adversaries for now and we will both be doing our best to win the game.

“We had two years together at Old Trafford and we know each other very well.

“If you know your opponent, you are going to tell your defenders what it will be like, so we are both in the same boat.”

Although fatigue may have played a part in the low-key opening fixtures, Park’s multiple injuries during the season mean he is fresher than most. It’s an advantage, says the 29-year-old winger.

“I think a lot of the European players are a little tired and may not be on top form, but I have rested well and had a good training schedule.

“I am at the top of my condition and physically I think I am very well-prepared.”

Meanwhile, French captain leads his side out against Mexico tonight in Polokwane, with United’s new striking recruit Javier Hernandéz on the opposite side. Despite stories of in-fighting and clashes with the team’s coach Raymond Domenech dominating the media, Evra insists that French spirit is high for the crucial Group A fixture.

Mexico drew its opening fixture against South Africa, while France failed to beat 10-man Uruguay. However, the South Americans’ 3-0 win over the hosts last night means that victory in today’s fixture is essential for both France and Mexico.

“I like to play within a very good team spirit,” said Evra, who was appointed to succeed Thierry Henry as France’s captain.

“I am always making sure that the group remains together and in good spirits and we remain friends, play closely together and are frank with one another so we don’t take our problems out onto the pitch.

“Since the first day you could feel this team was closely-knit and after each training session there are little gestures that cannot lie.”

Rooney, meanwhile, is under pressure to score having failed to hit the net since an early-April ankle injury hampered the end to the striker’s season. With a disappointing draw against the United States behind the team, pressure is mounting on both Rooney and Fabio Capello to deliver a result against Algeria in tomorrow evening’s Group D match.

“I’d like to score, but if I’m not scoring I’ll keep working until I do,” said Rooney, who has scored 25 times in 61 internationals.

“I don’t worry that much about it. We’ve got players in the team who can score goals. For us to do well, I need to play better than I did and to score goals, but I don’t feel under extra pressure.”

“It was difficult for me to play as well as I wanted after I got the injury against Bayern Munich. I played when I probably shouldn’t and lost my match fitness and sharpness.

“Even in Austria (during high altitude training) I had a few niggles and I held myself back but since we’ve come over here I’ve felt sharp and been flat out.

“When I was playing well and scoring goals earlier in the season I was sharp and hungry in training. That is how I feel at the minute.

“Of course I want to score. I don’t mind not scoring if we win but I know for us to win, it will be more or less down to me to score the goals, whether it is now or later in the competition.”

Rooney, rated as one of the finest players on the planet over the past 12 months, says the tournament is an opportunity to consolidate that view with some stand-out performances. So far other leading players such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká have failed to inspire in a low-key start to the tournament.

“This is a great opportunity for me to prove myself at world level,” added the 34-goal striker.

“I look at what Maradona and Pelé did. They took the World Cup by the scruff of the neck and virtually won it single-handed.

“If I can manage half of what they achieved, it would be great.”