England midfielder Joe Cole is hoping that the old adage about there being no substitute for experience will ring true for Fabio Capello's squad in South Africa over the coming month.
The England party is the third oldest in the competition and the most senior to represent their country at a FIFA World Cup™ – their average age of 28.7 years surpassing the previous record of 28.4 set in 1954 – yet Cole is confident this will serve them well as they look to better their quarter-final exits of 2002 and 2006.
The former West Ham United wunderkind, now 28, told FIFA: "When you look around at what the players have achieved, there are Premier League winners, Champions League winners, FA Cup winners. The squad is full of players with experience of winning. That's the important thing in the tournament. You need to know how it feels to win. You need to know what's on the line."
This is the third FIFA World Cup for Cole, one of four survivors from England's 2002 campaign. Capped 54 times, he played just 16 minutes as a substitute against Sweden in Korea/Japan but four years later in Germany started every match and produced one of the goals of the tournament – a spectacular dipping volley against the Swedes in the first round.
While England's squad in 2006 was erroneously dubbed the "golden generation" by sections of the UK media, there has been a more cautious treatment of their prospects this time. Yet with Wayne Rooney in his prime at 24, Cole believes the squad's older players – ten of them were born in 1980 or before – will be determined to take their "last chance" on the world stage, despite the loss of injured captain Rio Ferdinand.
He said: "The big difference is that we've got a fit Wayne Rooney in this squad. And the squad is quite experienced. In 2002 it was a bit too young and in the last World Cup, obviously he wasn't fit. We suffered the injury of Michael [Owen] as well. Obviously we're missing Rio but this squad is balanced. I think this is a lot of guys' last chance, considering their age at this World Cup."
Cole finished the season with Premier League and FA Cup winners' medals, together with the squad's other Chelsea players John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole. Unlike that trio, however, he will be departing Stamford Bridge on a free transfer during the close season, as confirmed by the London club this week. Cole made only 14 starts in the Premier League in 2009/10 after failing to convince manager Carlo Ancelotti he was worthy of a regular place following his return from a cruciate ligament injury.
That injury meant he made only two appearances in qualifying but, after a frustrating campaign, he is understandably delighted to be featuring for his country now in South Africa. He struck England's second goal in their 3-0 friendly win over Platinum Stars on Monday and is expected to start Saturday's opening Group C fixture against USA on the left side of midfield.
"I'm buzzing," said the Londoner. "I love my football, this is the pinnacle." And he is determined to make the most of what may be his last finals on the world stage. "Whatever happens in your career you get remembered for your World Cups. Because the whole world's eyes are on you, and it's time to perform – as a country, as a team, doing something incredible and putting your name down in history."