By JAMES LAWTON
The England training field in Kobe is a mean, inhospitable and unshaded place. High green fences surround it and above one of them is a solitary flag of Saint George.
Next door is a rock-breaking plant, a big jumble of iron jutting out into the Bay of Osaka. The co-hosts of the 17th World Cup would probably have thrown up a smelting shop in Eden before exquisitely re-designing the herb garden but the ambience they have created for England's preparation for Friday's quarter-final with Brazil seems just about right.
There is no levity here, no samba rhythms in the still and heavy air. Michael Owen, fighting for fitness, is out of the sun and Owen Hargreaves, bred in Calgary, is too preoccupied with running off his own injury to spare a minute for the Canadian journalists who stood broiling in the sun for an hour before the predictable knock-back.
England is plainly geared for serious business.
Only David Beckham is comfortable with the brief invasion of the outside world, but even the man who had won a stunning extension of his fame and earning capacity here in the Far East before a ball was kicked in anger, has little appetite for any of the usual cat-and-mouse headline-catching games.
He has become a master of such frippery, but not today, thank you very much.
Today, tomorrow and in those hours and minutes going into the heat of Shizuoka on Friday afternoon there is only Brazil.
"Not the tradition of Brazil," Beckham says quickly, "but the team they have now, the team of the strengths and the weaknesses we saw down in Kobe on Monday night.
"We went to the game because you would always want to watch Brazil play. But the more important reason was that we wanted to see what problems we will face. We took a good look at them, obviously, and we saw some good things and bad. We didn't come away thinking we had too big a job. But we didn't think we were going to have it easy either.
"Sometimes in this game you realise that certain moments may not come again. Maybe this is mine and our only chance to play Brazil in the World Cup, so this makes you all the more determined to understand what is at stake. This is a special fixture - an ultimate match. We are only going to win it if we accept that we cannot lose concentration for a minute. We cannot be distracted in any way."
Even for those long sceptical about the Beckham phenomonen, the feeling that his achievements, considerable though they have been, have been translated into an aura and an expectation impossible to sustain at this level of the game, and especially after seven weeks on the sidelines, it is an impressive performance. It gives respect to Brazil and the proper weight to the meaning of the match. But it is not mealy-mouthed. England can win, he says, and indeed, they should win.
He moves patiently along the touchline of the training field to talk briefly to a Spanish reporter. He talks easily and lightly and without resorting to platitudes. He is a media icon of astonishing, even absurd, proportions, no doubt, but today he seems, perhaps more than any time since his first emergence at Old Trafford as a floppy haired kid from Essex who played football with an apparently insatiable relish, a player unadorned but for the diamond in his ear and the carefully shaped hair. A player facing the game of his life.
"We cannot lose this moment, " he says. "If we do we will spend a long time regretting it." The trick, he suggests in the wake of the late explosion which carried Brazil past an obdurate and guileful Belgium, is to value the moment without being oppressed by it.
"We can recognise Brazil's ability to do certain amazing things, but we cannot be worried about them. If we showed that in the way we play on Friday it will reflect very badly on us. So when we say that the most important thing is to stop them scoring, that shouldn't mean that we are going to be too cautious. We can respect their strengths but we can't forget our own. Of course the Brazilians can be brilliant, we saw that when they beat the Belgium in their own way. But we also saw how many chances the Belgians had."
There is, you have to suspect, the influence of England coach Sven Goran Eriksson here. Eriksson may have believed that Beckham's captaincy was a fait accompli, an inheritance of Beckham's elevation as a media darling plainly craving confirmation in the job handed out as a one-off by temporary coach Peter Taylor. But he saw quickly enough the value the player placed on the job, and now on this hot noon by the rock plant Beckham is talking in the measured, common-sense language of his boss.
"Brazil have a lot of creativity, but then we have some of that - and we also may have strengths they don't have. Our defence has been playing great."
He accepts the personal challenge presented by Roberto Carlos, recalling the European Cup duels which ended in success for Carlos's Real Madrid.
"Obviously we know about each other - he's had some joy against me, I've had some joy against him, so on Friday there is everything to play for between us. He gets forward so much, but then he has the pace to get back. I noticed again against Belgium his ability to send out those long balls. Like Rivaldo and Ronaldo, he can do you damage so quickly.
"What you can't be, is intimidated when you look at the talent of players like Roberto Carlos. You have to remember what you have to offer too because if you worry too much about that they have, well, you're one down before you start. That doesn't mean you have to be too aggressive, take too many risks. We have to accept the need to get behind their defence, really hurt them. If we can do that, if we can really attack their confidence, I know we can win. We have to grab the moment.
"A lot of people may see them as favourites but a lot of that will be about Brazil's tradition. That doesn't mean anything when the match starts. Then it is up to who claims the moment. It could be our moment - yes it really could."
Meanwhile, out of the sun England's medical staff works desperately to ensure the fitness of Owen, the young striker who shook the world four years ago and is now the prime threat to the shaky foundations of Brazil's thrilling but fundamentally flawed game.
It is vital work, of course, but no more so than the setting the tone of the big match that may never come again. That, you have to believe, is going along nicely under the harsh sun.
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By JAMES LAWTON