Gary Neville is predicting the start of a new golden era for England
Gary Neville is predicting the start of a new golden era for the English team which he hopes will erase the one blot on his illustrious career. The Manchester United full-back could return to the England starting-line up against Slovakia in Bratislava on Saturday just two full games into his comeback from a broken foot.
It was that freakish injury, coming just days after close friend David Beckham suffered the same problem, which condemned Neville to a TV pundit's role during this summer's World Cup. However, far from being disheartened by the quarter-final fade-out against Brazil, the 27-year-old multi-medal winner with his club believes it will prove to be a major step forward in the development of Sven-Goran Eriksson's side.
And, drawing on his vast experience at club level, he is not even concerned that some of his international team-mates were mentally fazed by facing the great South American side. ``People always say you need four or five world-class players to win an international tournament and we have that,'' said Neville.
``No team in Europe can boast the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Michael Owen, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard. These players are genuine class and any team would love to have them in their side.
``If these guys can stay fit, along with the young lads coming through, we have a great chance of making this the start of a golden age for England.
``People said we didn't have the belief to beat Brazil but I am not too concerned if that is true,'' he said.
``At United it took us two or three years to realise we could actually beat Juventus. There was no shame in getting battered by them on a couple of occasions because eventually, in 1999, we had grown up enough to believe we could beat them.''
Neville also felt England were disadvantaged by the draining Asian humidity, which sapped too much strength and left Eriksson's side unable to push forward against their 10-man opponents.
``The defeat wasn't down to performance levels or individual mistakes, it was just one game too many in terms of the heat,'' he said.
``I have played in Asia and it is not much fun for the Europeans. The amount of energy required to get through a game leaves you physically drained.
``We all said it would be a factor before the tournament began and I honestly feel it cost us in the end.''
Neville's tried and trusted combination with David Beckham on the right flank has worked well for club and country down the years but Neville insists that alone would not be a reason to pick him.
"That would never be a reason to be selected by a manager of either Sven Goran Eriksson's or Alex Ferguson's experience," he explained.
"Of course David and I are close and people have said we get the best out of each other.
"I have heard that a lot over the past eight years but it's just because we've played so many times together for Manchester United and England."
And, even after only two full matches and three as sub for Manchester United, 27-year-old Neville has no doubts at all about his fitness: "I have no worries about whether I can perform on Saturday if selected," he said.
"If I had any doubts I wouldn't be here. I would have rung Mr Eriksson up and told him.
"But if he had any doubts about me he wouldn't have picked me. I will be fit for two games in five days.
"I'm experienced enough to know my match fitness won't be 100 per cent but I've been very surprised about how well I've felt since I returned.
"Right to the end against Everton on Monday we were going flat out.
"Mr Eriksson has got more experience than me about who is right to select. He's one of the best managers in the world."
Neville has only one obstacle to overcome in his bid to return to the England starting eleven - Danny Mills. Though they are rivals for the right back slot, Neville admitted that Mills had a fine World Cup, saying: " I thought he did as well as everyone else. They all did well.
"Whether he did enough to keep me out is not down to me it's down to Sven Goran Eriksson. I'm not the England manager.
"We all have our personal preferences as fans and players but I have to go along with what happens. All the players want to play and if you're in the team you do your very best, if you're not you get behind the lads, that's the way it's always been.
"All I can do is try and impress him in training as every player will try to do."
On Saturday, he'll find out if he's done enough.