Hooligans thwarted en route to finals

By Sonia Oxley

LONDON (Reuters) - British and South Africa police have thwarted attempts by English hooligans to get to the World Cup and around 3,200 identified trouble-makers have until Tuesday to hand in their passports to prevent them traveling.

With 11 days to go before the start of soccer's showpiece tournament, players and coaches had a Tuesday deadline of a different kind in their minds on Monday as the date for countries to name their final 23-man squads loomed large.

Off the pitch, the focus was on security with South African police minister Nathi Mthethwa saying around a dozen English hooligans had been intercepted as they tried to sneak into the country via Dubai. "A month ago some of them were trying to go via Dubai to come to South Africa and UK forces were able to nip them," Mthethwa told a news conference.

South African officials have said they are working with British police to prevent hooligans reaching Africa's first World Cup.

The tournament will also be out of reach for some players, who face a nervous night awaiting the phone call from their national coaches that will seal their fate.

While some countries, like Nigeria and Ghana on Monday, have already named their final squad, many are leaving it until the last minute to decide which players to axe -- in the case of new Ivory Coast boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, every second counts.

"From what I've seen in training and during one hour today, I'm very confident," said Eriksson, who has had only one week with his squad after replacing Vahid Halilhodzic in March. His first match in charge was Sunday's 2-2 draw with Paraguay.

"I like it, it's a big challenge, the time is short and Tuesday morning I have to tell seven to go home. It's not pleasant but that's a fact."


Fellow Swede Lars Lagerback, in charge of Nigeria, put his players out of their misery on Monday, including in his squad six players who featured in the 2002 edition with Nwankwo Kanu captaining the side at his third World Cup.

He cut Everton's Victor Anichebe and winger Ike Uche, who was Nigeria's top performer in the qualifiers, from the preliminary squad but included Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel who has recently returned from knee surgery.

Ghana have gambled on the fitness of center back John Mensah, who has had a run of injuries over the last year including a ligament strain suffered toward the end of the English league season.

Germany coach Joachim Loew will not be calling up any new players before finalizing his squad despite losing five players to injury including captain Michael Ballack, a team spokesman said.

New skipper Philipp Lahm was determined the team should not affected by the injuries, saying they were aiming to repeat their 2006 showing: "The big aim is the semi-finals but you first have to deal with the group stage. We want to get into the semis and the team does indeed dream of more than that."

Germany's first Group D opponents Australia were boosted by news that forward Harry Kewell is winning his race to be fit for that match on June 13. Coach Pim Verbeek will name his final squad after Tuesday's warm-up game against Denmark.

England coach Fabio Capello is yet to name his squad but can take comfort from the knowledge that whatever happens at the World Cup, he is in demand back in his native Italy.

"I would be pleased if he frees himself after the World Cup," Inter Milan president Massimo Moratti told Sky Italia regarding Capello and the vacant job at the European champions following Jose Mourinho's departure to Real Madrid.

(Writing by Sonia Oxley; Editing by Justin Palmer)