Pressure hurting England -- Fergie
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson believes there is a "terrible pressure'' on England players to perform in the World Cup but praised their "terrific'' display against Slovenia and thinks they will trouble Germany in Sunday's round-of-16 game in Bloemfontein.
Stressing that Wayne Rooney was "fully fit'', Ferguson argued that some of England's problems had been more to do with the weight of expectation. "The whole country was adamant they were going to win the cup and that's a terrible pressure to take on for players, none of whom have really got to a latter stage of a World Cup,'' he said.
"You have to go back to 1990 for the last time they were in a semi-final. They were unlucky to lose on penalty kicks to Germany. None of them have that experience of doing very well at a World Cup final. There are big, big expectations for these players and that's difficult to carry.
"Germany are a young team and that's an advantage for England,'' added Ferguson, who was talking to Riviera Radio's Rob Harrison yesterday while holidaying in Monaco.
"Germany had a fantastic start, beating Australia, but showed when they lost to Serbia they are not infallible. Last night they squeezed through. There's nothing there that suggests it will be easier for Germany. It's a very difficult game.''
Ferguson is experienced at picking up the pieces when his players are involved in World Cup fall-outs, notably David Beckham after France 1998, and he was keeping an eye on France's meltdown and particularly on Patrice Evra. "I've texted him,'' said Ferguson. "He's going for a bit of a holiday.''
The French players refused to train for one day at the World Cup, following the expulsion of Nicolas Anelka.
"We don't know all the circumstances,'' stressed Ferguson. "It's a bit disappointing. The last thing you should do is down tools. They may have valid reasons but sometimes you should put reasons behind you and think of the people who have come from all areas of the world to South Africa to support you.''
Ferguson has long believed that the World Cup winners will hail from South America and nothing he has seen has made him change his mind. "That was my prediction: that a South American team would win it, particularly Brazil. I always said Paraguay were a big danger. They don't lose goals and have strength and pace.
"Chile have done well. Argentina have shown the most consistent form. But Brazil have always got that bit of magic. Just when you think it's not the Brazil of old, they produce something because their players are brought up in this fantastic philosophy of enjoying themselves and expressing themselves on the football field. All Brazilian players have got that. They are big-game players. That's why I made them favourites.''
The man who guided Scotland at the 1986 event sounded a note of caution about this tournament. "Most of the World Cup has not been great,'' said Ferguson. "I've been a bit disappointed. The one plus-point is the supporters. They have all gone down there to have a really good party. You've got a little problem with the vuvuzelas but if that's the only problem that's a bonus.''
On United matters, Ferguson said that the Glazer family were supportive owners. Old Trafford has been full of green and gold scarves as fans campaign against the Americans. "There's nothing wrong with protest,'' Ferguson said. "The supporters have shown their unhappiness about who owns the club. That's always been there since I've come to the club, first with the Edwards family, then when we went plc, now the Glazers.
"There's always an element of supporters who feel they own the club; that's understandable because they have fantastic loyalty to the club. I can understand where they are coming from. My take is that the Glazers have supported the team very, very well. They don't interfere, they let us get one with the job and when we've asked for a player, we've got it. What more can we ask?''
When Harrison mentioned the escalating debts in football, harming clubs like Portsmouth, Ferguson replied: "I don't know how you stop it because of the demand to do well. That demand comes from the supporters and the media drive it on.
"Present-day football has become such a competitive place. Fans now are voluble, demonstrative, much more emotional than ever. So there's a competitive element from supporters that creates this having to win. A director can easily be swayed by that.''
As for his future at United, the 68- year-old sounded as driven as ever. "It's a great club, a marvellous club to be involved in,'' said Ferguson. "The motivation is easy because I've had great players for 25 years and great support. Every morning I go into training and watch these players perform. They do it with great commitment and concentration. It's a joy to see that.
"Age is always a thing you have to be guarded against because with age there are penalties. Health is definitely one. Health determines how long go on in the club. Touch wood, I'm okay.'' (© Daily Telegraph, London)