David James has dismissed fears that Germany have a psychological stranglehold over England and insists Sunday's second-round tie in Bloemfontein will be won long before a penalty shoot-out "because we are a better team".
The Germans have progressed further than England in every World Cup finals since 1966, though Fabio Capello will take heart from the reality that his players have largely gone unscarred by previous defeats inflicted by the old enemy. Rather than dwelling on defeat on spot-kicks in 1990 and at Euro 96, his squad have drawn inspiration from their friendly success over Joachim Lw's side in Berlin in November 2008 when the visitors' makeshift side triumphed 2-1.
"I'm genuinely confident with the team that penalties won't be an issue," said James. "Why? Because I think we're a better team than Germany. We played them in Berlin and beat them 2-1 in a game which we should have won more comfortably. They're a strong side, ranked sixth in the world, but we are not fearful of them at all. We are confident we can beat them. We have got through the qualifiers, the group stage, into the knockout, and we are confident we can make the British happy by beating Germany. We will respect them, but they are beatable.
"The manager picked a squad of 23 based not just on footballing ability but also on their mental capabilities. As a group of players we're not sitting around bringing up the romantic side of things, saying: 'Look what happened this time we played Germany, or what about this time?' The one comment that has been made is: 'What about Berlin? We beat them 2-1.' So there was an achievement that a large nucleus of this group of players have been involved in. We're talking about our achievement."
Only four of Capello's current squad started England's last loss to the Germans, under Steve McClaren at Wembley in August 2007, but only Frank Lampard, James Milner and Joe Cole of those expected to be involved at Free State Stadium have never beaten these opponents. The likes of Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole and Emile Heskey can even conjure memories of the 5-1 World Cup qualifying victory in Munich in 2001.
Capello welcomed Ledley King back to full training at Royal Bafokeng today following a groin complaint, but is expected to field an unchanged line-up in Bloemfontein with Matthew Upson retained at centre-half, Jermain Defoe up front and Milner on the right of midfield. Jamie Carragher, restored after a one-match ban, could yet come into his thoughts at centre-back, though the Italian is inclined not to disrupt a winning side.
"All the players trained and everyone is fit to play," said Capello. "It is a good feeling. If they train, they are fit to play, so I have more options. I have to choose. But it means I will be able to change some things during the game. When you can choose from 23 players on the bench, it is better for me." Wayne Rooney should be fit to feature despite suffering a kick to his troublesome ankle in Wednesday's victory over Slovenia.
The players will travel south tomorrow buoyed by the fluency mustered against Slovenia and with any lingering sense of disappointment at the failure to win Group C, and therefore avoid Germany and, potentially, Argentina in the next two rounds, now forgotten as they focus on the task ahead. "I think we can do it," said Joe Cole. "I've never felt it like this before in other tournaments. This time, I think it's our time and we can do it if the country believes. We can't wait to get to grips with Germany."
"We'd have still needed to go through the same process of pinpointing strengths and weaknesses whether we had won the group and faced Ghana or come second and faced Germany," added James. "Ghana would have been a tougher obstacle in some respects because they seem to be a much more free-flowing side.
"There wouldn't have been quite as much romance about it, but they'd still have been a side who had qualified for the knockout stage, and a handy team at that. But that's null and void now. We've got to beat Germany, and the focus has to be on them. And for the press and for the 40 million viewers back home, or whatever they are anticipating, we hope and look forward to making it a special day for England."