Ox steps up his training

Andover Advertiser: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was put through his paces at training Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was put through his paces at training

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks on course for a quick return to action after he took part in an intense sprint workout during England's first full training session in Rio de Janeiro.

Oxlade-Chamberlain's participation in the World Cup was thrown into doubt when he strained a medial knee ligament in England's draw against Ecuador in Miami last week.

Oxlade-Chamberlain sat inside as the rest of the 23-man squad took part in a full training session at the Urca military base on Monday, but he did emerge later to embark upon a series of shuttle runs with fitness coach Tony Strudwick.

The Arsenal midfielder wore a brace on his injured right knee, but he put in a series of 20-yard bursts at full- speed, which is welcome news for Roy Hodgson ahead of Saturday's Group D opener against Italy in Manaus.

Hodgson has until Friday to decide whether he wants to replace the 20-year-old with either Jon Flanagan or John Stones, who are on standby.

Steven Gerrard did not complete the hour-long session in near-30 degree heat, but it later emerged that the England captain withdrew as he only had a tight groin.

England were given a typically-Brazilian welcome for their first session at the training base, which stands in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain.

A samba band made up of 20 children from local Sport Relief-funded project, Bola Pra Frente, greeted the squad as they came out to train.

A local man sang Queen song 'We are the Champions' as the squad posed for pictures.

The bookmakers regard England as anything but potential champions, but Brazil's most famous footballer seems to regard the Three Lions as contenders.

"I prefer Brazil to face Uruguay, then you have the revenge," said Pele, referring to Uruguay's shock triumph over Brazil here in 1950.

Asked about England's chances, Pele was quoted as saying by the BBC: "England - like Brazil, Italy, France - have a reputation. We must be prepared for them."

As you would expect for a military base, security was tight around the squad as they trained on Monday.

In the seas behind the pitch a submarine was visible.

England were given a police escort to the training ground, although they were held up for a few minutes as the coach had left without Ross Barkley, who returned to cheers from the rest of the playing staff.

The squad will train at Urca on Tuesday and Wednesday before flying to Manaus, where reality will hit the players.

Hodgson has almost four decades' worth of coaching experience, but he will come under pressure like never before in this World Cup. The 66-year-old is confident he has a good enough support network around him to cope though.

"What helps me deal with (the pressure) is the players," he said.

"I enjoy working with the players - they are the ones who really excite me.

"What keeps me going and keeps me calm is watching training sessions and seeing players perform, feeling we have got good players in England now who could be very exciting in this tournament and going forward.

"That's what gives me the calmness because I don't feel there is any need to be concerned about them."

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