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England Look To Slay Ghosts
Fabio Capello claims England's win over Slovenia has liberated his squad from the demons of self-doubt that haunted their faltering first steps at this World Cup.
If he is right, the evidence of a successful exorcism will be presented here on Sunday in the last 16 clash with Germany.
On paper, it is a match in which an England side stuffed with experienced Champions League campaigners should comfortably prevail over opponents with an average age below 25.
World Cup history suggests it will not be that simple. Capello can look back on the 2-1 win an injury-depleted England side recorded in Berlin in November 2008 as proof that his side are more than a match for opponents missing their injured skipper Michael Ballack.
But no England fan will need reminding that the last two meetings of the countries at international tournaments, in the semi-finals of Italia 90 and Euro 96, ended in painful, penalty shoot-out defeats.
Form at this World Cup also points to another tense, finely-balanced encounter with England having come good only in their final group game while the Germans started at a sprint against Australia only to find the going tougher in subsequent matches.
"Against Slovenia we did really very well in every area of the pitch," Capello said. "The positions we took up were very good. We won back the ball and played quickly. The passing was really dangerous and we switched the ball quickly.
"In the other games we lost the ball a lot but this time we managed to keep hold of it."
The Italian will demand a repeat of that high-tempo display against the Germans and the manager's confidence appears to have been transmitted to his players.
"I am genuinely confident that, with this team and this manager, penalties will not be an issue," said the goalkeeper David James. "Why? Because I think we are a better team than Germany. We played them in Berlin and beat them 2-1 in a game we should have won more comfortably."
For all his optimism, James acknowledged England would probably have preferred to have been facing Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday, as they would have done had they not been pipped by the United States for top spot in group C.
The extra day's recovery time may prove to have been a blessing in disguise however with Wayne Rooney having taken a knock on his ankle in the Slovenia match.
The Manchester United striker has not scored in nine matches for club or country since he first hurt his ankle in a Champions League clash with Bayern Munich at the end of March.
He has also now gone seven matches in World Cup finals without scoring and has appeared at times here that the pressure of carrying England's hopes is not sitting comfortably with him.
England need Rooney and his likely strike partner Jermain Defoe to be operating on all cylinders if they are to test the supposed lack of pace at the heart of Germany's defence.
Germany's players have acknowledged that the experience of England's big guns should count in their favour and head coach Joachim Loew has voiced his admiration for an English spine made up of John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
But he sees no reason why his side, in which the widely-admired Mesut Ozil has emerged as the dominant creative force, should feel intimidated.
"Both teams go into the game with a certain amount of respect," Loew said. "This will also be the case in England, because they know that we are quite capable of beating them. There will be no fear, not from us and not from the English."
No fear on either side? Perhaps. The one sure thing is there can only be one winner.