England look to lucky panda
© Foto-net

The England party touched down in unfamiliar surroundings on Saturday afternoon following their lunchtime flight from Shanghai to Chengdu yet they could be forgiven for feeling at home straight away in a place famed as the home of the giant panda. After all, this is a squad whose lucky charm Yolanda is herself a panda.

Sharp-eyed spectators would already have noted Yolanda's presence at England's opening two games at China 2007, with the cuddly bear sat viewing Friday's stalemate with Germany from the top of the team dugout. Yolanda belongs to England doctor Pippa Bennett and is passed between those members of the squad requiring treatment for injury problems.

Defender Alex Scott was the latest player to feel the benefits of the panda's presence, as England attacker Kelly Smith explained to FIFA.com after the game: "She's been with Alex Scott all day because she hurt her back and we weren't sure if she would play. She was there to boost her ego and try and take the pain away from her back."

Whether it was the bear's bedside manner the night before, the plaster placed on her furry back in a show of support, or some other feature of Dr Bennett's treatment, something obviously worked with Scott managing to play the full 90 minutes of England's hugely deserved draw.

Afterwards Scott herself - who showcased her versatility in a forward role against the Germans - took up the story. "(Yolanda) has been with me because I've got a back problem and it was touch and go whether I would play. They put a plaster on her because I've been patched up and I've been able to play. Now I am back fine she will be with the next player. She gets passed around the team, she's our lucky team mascot and is in our team pictures as well."

Now installed in Chengdu, close to the real thing at China's Giant Panda Breeding Centre, England will hope that their luck will hold in Monday's must-win match against Argentina.