James Milner admits he found it easier to settle back into the England side because of the presence of Glen Johnson behind him at right-back. The Aston Villa player was chosen in a left-sided midfield role in the opening game of the FIFA World Cup™ against the USA but he lasted only half an hour before being substituted by Fabio Capello.
Milner, who had been feeling unwell in the build-up to that game, was recalled on the opposite flank for the make-or-break group game with Slovenia and responded by creating the only goal for Jermain Defoe with a pinpoint cross to set up a last-16 meeting with Germany tomorrow. And he recognises the part played by Johnson in helping him to revert to the role he had played in for 15 months at Villa before Martin O'Neill moved into central midfield.
"The partnership with Glen Johnson felt comfortable," he said. "The more you play with a full-back, the better. You've got pairings all over the field, the centre-halves, strikers, midfielders, full-backs, wingers. It is definitely easier to play with someone when it's of Glen Johnson's quality behind you. He is a top player, fantastic going forward, he talks to you, is good at over-lapping, is good defensively."
Milner admits the clash with the Germans will be "the biggest game of my career." He recognises the history of the encounter, which includes memorable matches in 1966, 1970, 1990 and 1996, but he also wants revenge for England Under-21s losing the final of the 2009 UEFA European Championships to Germany who have included six of that squad in their 23 for South Africa.
"Germany is a massive game at whatever level, from Under-16s right through to the full squad," he said. "There is a great occasion and history about the fixture. But those of us involved want to put the record straight for what happened with the Under-21s last summer.
"We were unlucky in the final, things didn't quite go for us, but we also didn't perform as well as we could. They were a good team, organised, pretty good going forward, scored a few goals on the break, but they moved the ball around well - as you've also seen in this tournament. It will be a tough game but for those of us involved it would be good to get one back on them especially in a World Cup."