Lampard: leave Rooney alone
England midfielder Frank Lampard. (AFP)
Rustenburg - Frank Lampard has warned the United States that Wayne Rooney is no longer the hotheaded striker whose dismissal at the 2006 World Cup contributed to England's exit in the quarterfinals.
Since that stamp on Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho, fatherhood and marriage have been credited by both England coach Fabio Capello and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson with helping to mature the 24-year-old Rooney.
So Lampard was surprised Saturday to hear that former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas was advising the Americans in their World Cup opener against England next Saturday to try and antagonize Rooney.
"Everyone has seen his maturity as a player and a person over the years," Lampard said. "I don't think there is any issue about trying to wind him up."
Capello has lectured his players on the importance of not allowing a reckless moment to jeopardize England's hopes of a first World Cup title since 1966.
"Discipline is important at any level of football," Lampard said. "You have to understand the importance of having 11 men because when you are at the top end, the small details and small changes mean everything. If you get a red card it's a bit stupid and it can affect the team. Referees are looking at these kind of incidents because the world is watching.
"The manager has always spoken about making sure you don't lose your head. Everyone wants to be aggressive in the tackle but you don't want to overstep the mark and put the team in jeopardy."
There is a growing awareness in the England camp that the Americans, who reached the Confederations Cup final in South Africa last June, will be tough opponents in the Group C opener.
"They'll be very organized," Lampard said. "There is a certain rivalry considering the players they have who play in the Premier League. It'll be a tough game, the first one always is.
"Considering we're playing the strongest team in our group, other than us hopefully, I think it'll make for a tight game."
England's Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder David Beckham, who was ruled out of the World Cup with an Achilles' tendon injury, is in South Africa with the squad. The former captain was sent on Saturday to watch the Americans' final warmup match, a 3-1 win over Australia.
"I will possibly watch the DVD with him here," said Capello, who was impressed by the United States' performance in a 2-1 defeat by the Netherlands at the Amsterdam Arena in March.
"The quality of America is really good. They play a lot of passes, it is the same style as Spain, they always create chances to score goals," Capello said. "They played against Holland and lost but they played very well. They had a lot of chances to draw."
Capello has made it clear that England must improve after unconvincing displays in warmup victories over Mexico and Japan last month.
"I want to see a real focus, we are training every day to try and improve some things I did not see in these games. I expect a better performance," Capello said.
"Some of the players are starting to play with the spirit that I like. I want that on the pitch -- strong and fast; you want to win back the ball; you want to go forward to be dangerous; not too slow or too wide always."
England's opening game is at an altitude of 1,500 meters in Rustenburg which is also the team's base during the tournament. Lampard expects the official Adidas Jabulani ball to act unpredictably.
"With the ball moving, that will be an issue, it moves a lot more," he said. "The goalkeepers will tell you that. You can see it when you strike the ball. There are going to be a lot more spectacular goals and could even be a lot more spectacular misses."
What Lampard isn't missing is the more relaxed approaches of previous England regimes. Capello takes a hardline approach with the players and what they can do in their free time.
"There are moments when you get a bit bored and you could do with stretching your legs and seeing other than this hotel, but that's just tournament football," Lampard said in a media tent at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus.
"We're very lucky. Everyone can see the facilities here are superb, and we're fortunate for that. And if you do get bored for a minute, you correct yourself and remind yourself that the World Cup is a week away."
And Lampard knows that, for him at least, it's a chance that may not come around again.
"This could possibly be my last," he said.