England, one of the pre-tournament favourites to win the World Cup, kick off their campaign with a Group B match against Paraguay in Frankfurt.
The build-up to the game has almost been overshadowed by the saga of Wayne Rooney’s fractured metatarsal, but with the striker still some way short of full fitness, attention can now turn to the match itself.
Rooney’s enforced absence has left England coach Sven Goran Eriksson with few selection dilemmas. Lanky striker Peter Crouch will deputise for the Manchester United striker, but otherwise, the Swede will be able to field his strongest eleven.
Paul Robinson will make his first appearance at a major final but the back four has a solid, experienced look to it with Gary Neville, one of only two survivors from Euro 96, lining up alongside Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry.
Eriksson has confirmed that Steven Gerrard has recovered from a back problem to take his place in central midfield, alongside Chelsea’s Frank Lampard. Skipper David Beckham will operate on the right flank with Joe Cole on the left. Up front, Michael Owen will look to feed off Crouch, the man who has been transformed in recent weeks from laughing stock to national icon.
Eriksson believes that England have the players to win the competition.
“This is the best England team I have ever had – no doubt about it at all,” he said. “When you have a great team and a good group you can set the tempo.
“I believe we can win the World Cup and it’s important we get a winning start because it’s a message to other teams.
“Three points is the most important thing.
“But I want to see the team play good football as well, defend well, attack well, concentrate on set pieces which will be very important.
“Once the game starts it is up to the players to remember all the preparation and talking and practicing we have done. It is up to the players.
Paraguay received a pre-match boost with Roque Santa Cruz declaring himself fit to play.
However the South Americans have a fall-back plan and will field a double Nelson strike force – Valdez and Cuevas – if Santa Cruz fails a late fitness test.
The appearance of Santa Cruz will be a bonus, especially since the withdrawal from the squad of Jose Cardozo injury.
Paraguay coach Anibal Ruiz has warned Eriksson that his side is ready to give England a footballing lesson.
The Uruguayan-born coach said: “We have studied the England team and, if they still think that they are better than us, we will teach them a lesson.
“Straight away we are coming up against one of the favourites.
“It forces us to concentrate on every last detail. We want to measure ourselves against the best.”
The two teams have met just twice previously with England winning on both occasions.
They first met at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where goals from Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley saw England triumph 3-0 in the tournament’s second round.
A 2002 friendly international saw England beat the South Americans 4-0.
England: Robinson, G Neville, Terry, Ferdinand, A Cole, Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, J Cole, Owen, Crouch.
Paraguay: Villar, Caceres, Gamarra, Caniza, Nunez, Acuna, Paredes, Barreto, Dos Santos, Santa Cruz, Haedo Valdez.
Referee: Marko Rodriguez (Mexico)