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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep 8, 2008

Cole wants England to prove mental strength

Joe Cole believes England must show "mental toughness'' to obtain a positive result in Wednesday's crucial World Cup qualifier with Croatia in Zagreb - as he waits to see whether he will be in Fabio Capello's starting line-up.

The Chelsea midfielder, who came off the bench to score both goals in the win over Andorra on Saturday, feels England were too naive in their approach when beaten 2-0 by Slaven Bilic's side in the same stadium two years ago in a Euro 2008 qualifier.

The misery of their eventual exit from the tournament courtesy of a 3-2 reversal in the return game with the Croats at Wembley still hurts 27-year-old Cole.

But he senses a determination to make amends as Capello weighs up whether to recall him to the first eleven after being on the bench for the past four games.

Cole said: "It took a long time to get the Wembley defeat out of the system and the realisation that came with it that we weren't going to the European Championships.

"It still hurts. Any disappointments you have are like that. It still hurts me that West Ham got relegated five years ago. It still hurts me that Chelsea lost the Champions League final in May.

"But you've got to put them to the back of your mind and move on. We are doing everything possible now to make sure what happened in Croatia last time doesn't happen again.''

Cole admitted: "We all made a lot of mistakes during the last campaign. Last time we went there, we under-estimated them a bit. We were a bit naive. Looking at their performances in the Euro finals, Croatia are a top side with great players.

"I think you need to be solid and tough, you need to be compact and you need everyone's experience on the pitch because it is going to be a hostile environment.

"You need to show mental toughness and, with the way the team and the squad is set up, we are getting stronger. I can see that every time we meet up. There is more mental toughness in the team now.''

Cole will relish the challenge presented by Croatia and in trying to combat the hostile atmosphere that will greet Capello and his team in Maksimir Stadium.

And he is aware of the need for England to avoid having to play catch-up in their qualifying group by coming off second best in Zagreb.

Cole said: "I love these sort of games. These are the ones you play for. There will definitely be a point in the game where we haven't got a lot of the ball and we are having to defend well.

"You have to do all you can to stop players like Rakitic, Modric and Petric who are top, top players.

"You need to get off to a good start in your group. We really let ourselves down in Zagreb and then by drawing with Macedonia at home last time.

"Once a team gets the bit between their teeth like Croatia, we were always playing catch-up and we made it hard for ourselves.

"If we can get the right result on Wednesday night, we can really push on in the group. We will go there to win but, even if we draw, we will still come away with people thinking England are in the driving seat.''

Cole's talent has never been in question since his early days at West Ham but he has often had to prove himself to various managers, most notably Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, and now he finds a similar scenario with Capello.

But he is too much of a team man to start demanding to play despite his equaliser against the Czech Republic and his two-goal blast against Andorra.

He said: "Should I be in the side? It is not important. The main thing is getting the right results. We came here to Barcelona on Saturday to get the win. We got that done. Now we've got to move on.

"To be honest no-one under the new regime is confident of starting. You saw the team the gaffer put out on Saturday had new faces and players coming back into the side.

"It is good that everyone has got to fight for your place and you've got to perform every game so I think that is a positive thing and we are moving forward.''

Central defender Rio Ferdinand looks like winning his battle to recover from a neck injury in time to face Croatia after coming through a full training session with the squad today.

The Manchester United star, who was ruled out of the Andorra game, will travel with his team-mates and Capello to Zagreb tomorrow.

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