Jermain Defoe is giving his mum Sandra the credit for his match-winning performance in Port Elizabeth yesterday.
Informed by Fabio Capello on Tuesday that he was in his starting line-up to face Slovenia, Defoe quickly turned into a bag of nerves. The 27-year-old tossed and turned all evening, dreaming of his shot at being a hero. And it took a word from home the following day to get him in the right frame of mind for what was to come.
"I was so fired up I couldn't sleep the night before the game," said Defoe. "She really calmed me down and told me I had to relax and enjoy it because it is what I had worked all my life for. Mum was crying before the game, so you can imagine what she was like afterwards."
Now the hunt is on for some tickets as the extended Defoe family is due to arrive tomorrow in time to see the striker face Germany in a match which will capture attention worldwide. It is a far cry from four years ago, when Defoe missed out on selection for Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad but travelled to Germany on standby for Wayne Rooney, only to be released before the tournament took place after the Manchester United man recovered from his broken foot.
The experience shocked many of Defoe's international colleagues, with one, who remains unnamed, telling the forward to challenge Eriksson about his original choice. "All the lads were saying they couldn't believe it," he recalled. "I can't remember who but one of the boys even said I should talk to the manager and tell him I can bring something to the team. I didn't bother. In the back of my mind I knew he'd made his decision."
It is not something Defoe is likely to forget, which is why he tried so hard to force his way into Capello's plans this time around. He explained: "Something like that spurs you on. It was so hard leaving the camp. I just want to prove people wrong and show I should have been there."
There may also be an element of proving Capello wrong too. Right at the start of the FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign, Defoe was chosen as Wayne Rooney's partner. But a disappointing, goalless 45 minutes against Andorra in Barcelona prompted Capello to make a change. Although he still contributed to England's quest to reach South Africa, it was always after being introduced from the substitutes' bench.
Defoe was reunited with Rooney at the start of the friendly with Egypt in March, but again the experiment did not appear to work. Yesterday was far better though, with Defoe revealing it was the product of so much hard work on the training ground.
"With Peter Crouch it looks more natural because I train with him every day at Tottenham," said Defoe. "But the movement with Wayne worked well. It's stuff we have done a lot in training. We have been together since Austria now and for something we have worked on to come off like that is really good."
The concern for Rooney is that he has not scored. Moreover he does not look fully fit and was taken off by Capello Wednesday night after taking a kick on the ankle he injured on club duty at the end of last season. The England coaching staff have been at pains to stress that Rooney should be fine for Sunday, and Defoe is confident the 24-year-old's current barren run at international level, which stretches back to September, will soon be over.
"It's amazing as a forward. You have games where you don't feel sharp and your legs are heavy but you manage to score two goals and people say you were unbelievable," he said. "Sometimes you play great games but don't score. Even if things are not going right for Wayne, he always works hard and tries to make things happen. All the top players have that. I am sure if he keeps doing that he will definitely get you a goal."