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England’s Rooney tune

sports Updated: Jun 12, 2010 02:21 IST

Steven Gerrard believes Wayne Rooney can be the player who defines Africa's first World Cup.

All the reports emanating from England's base camp at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus indicate that the Manchester United striker is chomping at the bit in the final countdown to his side's opener against the United States here on Saturday.

"Unbelievable" was the adjective Gerrard opted for. Fabio Capello, the England coach, has been equally free with the superlatives in assessing Rooney's form and fitness ahead of a tournament which offers the 24-year-old the perfect opportunity to banish painful memories from the last World Cup.

Having arrived in Germany struggling for match fitness after breaking a metatarsal bone, Rooney was a shadow of the forward who had, as an 18-year-old, terrorised defences at Euro 2004.

He departed Germany goalless and in disgrace, his involvement ended by a red card issued for stamping on Ricardo Carvalho in the quarter-final against Portugal, which England ultimately lost on penalties.

The hangover from that defeat still lingers and England's players, while bullish about their hopes for the tournament, now accept that their strength in depth is not quite a match for the world's best.

They know that their chances are entwined with Rooney's capacity to perform at his best and claim the goals they will need to carry them deep into the knockout stages.

"We have been working very hard and each day we are getting sharper and better and dealing with this altitude more and more and I can see that in Rooney myself," Gerrard reported. "The last couple of days he has been unbelievable in training."

The England captain added: "The stage is set for Wayne. He is a fantastic age, he is in great shape and he is coming off the back of an unbelievable season, probably his best. He is in the category of those players like Ronaldo and Messi.

"I'm just delighted he is English and he is going to be leading us out there. Hopefully he can be our main goalscorer and score the goals that spur us on to victory."

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.

USA’s 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."'

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.