Hopes high as England touch down
As England's footballers flew into Germany on Monday, they left behind an expectant nation. "Eriksson and England head off on a high" ran the headline in Monday's Guardian newspaper, capturing the wave of optimism that is breaking across the country as Germany 2006 approaches.
Saturday's 6-0 victory over Jamaica extended England's winning run to six matches and ensured plenty of positive headlines as Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad boarded their charter flight from Luton airport, bound for southern Germany.
"England fly out with high hopes," said the Daily Telegraph while the Sun's typically brash back-page headline read: "We'll nut Brazil" - a reference to a quote from Eriksson saying that England could defeat the world champions.
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Great expectations accompany every England FIFA World Cup adventure but according to the Telegraph, this time these expectations are "probably justified". Writing in that newspaper, the former Liverpool and Scotland defender Alan Hansen said: "Before a ball is kicked, England seem to have better players in better form than almost anyone else."
The Guardian said much the same, arguing that: "The showings of David Beckham and Michael Owen heartened Eriksson even more on Saturday than the 6-0 win over a feeble Jamaica."
Besides the return to form and fitness of key players, another cause for English optimism is the possibility of Wayne Rooney playing at least some part in their finals campaign. "Keep the faith in Roo," declared the Mirror following Eriksson's confident prediction on Saturday that the Manchester United striker "will be flying back to join us on Wednesday evening" after the scan on his injured foot.
Rooney and Gary Neville, who missed last week's Hungary and Jamaica matches with a hamstring problem, are the only two players in the England party with genuine question marks against their fitness. Beckham, John Terry and Ashley Cole all missed Monday's training session for "purely precautionary" reasons according to the Football Association's director of communications, Adrian Bevington.
England landed at the Baden Airpark at 18:00 CET in a plane renamed Pride of the Nation. However, as Eriksson's players settle into their base at the Schlosshotel Buhlerhohe near Baden Baden, the question that remains to be answered is whether - 40 years after their one previous FIFA World Cup victory - England really can justify the hype this time round.