BLOEMFONTEIN: Be careful of what you wish for. Sometimes it is what you get, as Wayne Rooney has found out.
Asked last week if he would relish the prospect of meeting Germany in the second round of the World Cup, England`s talisman responded: "Yes! It would be nice to beat them."
At the time, it was presumed a new chapter in the chronicles of one of world football`s great rivalries would, if it happened at all, have to wait until a later stage of Africa`s first World Cup.
Instead, England`s sluggish start to the tournament and the consequent draws with the United States and Algeria cost them the chance of topping their group.
That condemned them to a trip to Bloemfontein on Sunday, prompted Franz Beckenbauer to call England "foolish" and left Rooney possibly regretting a throwaway line Germany`s tabloids will not allow him to forget.
England would undeniably prefer to be facing Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday rather than travelling to the heart of South Africa 24 hours later to resume battle with opponents they last met in the World Cup in the semi-final at Italia 90, which Germany won on a penalty shoot-out before going on to lift the trophy.
The trade-off of tougher opposition against an extra day`s recovery time may have been one England would have taken however.
The high-tempo performance against Slovenia in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday marked a belated return to form for Fabio Capello`s squad. But the investment in terms of nervous energy was significant and the severity of the ankle injury suffered by Rooney (or has been carrying, depending on who you believe) remains unclear.
Rooney has not scored in nine matches for club or country since his stellar season for Manchester United was interrupted by a similar injury he suffered in the first leg of United`s 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, on the evidence of his general body language around England`s base camp in Rustenburg, the frustration of not delivering on the biggest stage is weighing heavily on his muscular shoulders.
The Germans though are not counting on a below par Rooney facilitating their passage to a quarter-final encounter with either Argentina or Mexico. "Wayne Rooney has incredible qualities, he has proved that year after year," said Arne Friedrich, one of the German centrebacks whose perceived lack of pace will be tested should England opt to retain Jermain Defoe alongside Rooney in a forward combination that worked well against Slovenia.
"Rooney might have been a bit off form here, but he is a player who can come into his own very quickly," Friedrich said. "He has incredible qualities."
Friedrich`s comments underline that, behind the veil of animosity generated by all the "Herr We Go" headlines, players on either side of this footballing fault line are intimately acquainted with one another, and the respect displayed for Rooney and co. is mutual.
Billed as a squad in transition that, following the injury which ruled captain Michael Ballack out of the tournament, was a little short in quality, Joachim Loew`s men have obligingly lived up to their stereotypical reputation of hitting form in time for another major tournament.
Mesut Ozil`s left-foot has caught the eye of the England players, although it is Germany`s collective strength that Defoe identifies as the defining quality of Loew`s squad.
"The centrebacks are not the quickest but I think they are really organised. When they lose the ball they get back into their shape very quickly and it is very difficult to break them down. They have always been like that, but hopefully we will create chances like we did against Slovenia."
The Germans have been equally complimentary, although all the comments suggesting England should be regarded as favourites, carry a sub-text designed to remind the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard that they have yet to really justify their reputations on the World Cup stage.
"They are star-studded with loads of experience under their belts, and I see them as favourites," Loew`s assistant Hansi Flick claimed. "They have not really shown what they are capable of. I am convinced England remain one of the favourites for the title."
It wouldn`t be England v Germany without a few mind games in the build-up. Fans worldwide will be hoping the real action is just as entertaining.
KEY TO MATCH
Is Wayne Rooney really fit? The England striker`s subdued performances have led many to suspect something is up with him physically. Fabio Capello does not expect an ankle niggle to prevent his talisman from playing but England need him firing on all cylinders if they are to overcome their old adversaries.
BDST: 1647hrs, June 26, 2010