England's high hopes
Fabio Capello will be setting his sights high in more ways than one this summer.
With seven of South Africa's 10 World Cup stadiums - including the venue for the final, Soccer City in Johannesburg - at altitude, England's meticulous manager knows how important it will be for his players to be properly prepared.
So the Italian has already put them through their paces at the Altitude Centre in London, as well as taking advice from other teams that have recently toured South Africa, including England's cricketers and the British and Irish Lions.
Richard Pullan, who runs the Altitude Centre, one of the world leaders in its field, says it would be foolhardy to underestimate the effect that playing several thousand feet above sea level can have on an athlete.
"Just talk to any sportsmen who have played on the high veldt," he told me, "and they will describe how the thin air gave them a dry throat, made them breath differently and speeded up their heart rate."
England's players have undergone individual tests at the centre to see how well they cope with the effects of altitude and it was not necessarily the fittest players who coped best.
"Very fit people tend to be those who can bring as much oxygen to their muscles as quickly as possible," Pullan said.
"Performing at altitude is about using oxygen efficiently though, which is a very different thing. That's what we help them to do.
"I would use the analogy of a Formula One car, which is very fast but uses huge amounts of fuel. We want them to be more like a Toyota Prius."
England's players will be able to prepare by training wearing special masks which put nitrogen into the air, reducing its oxygen content.
The Lions used these masks when they toured South Africa in the summer and I tested
one out at their team hotel in Cape Town.
After 10 suffocating minutes on a rowing machine, I nearly keeled over.
Capello might also choose to get his players sleeping in special altitude tents, which is what the Australian team will be doing.
Altitude also makes England's choice of team base particularly important.
Earlier this week Capello checked on the progress being made building the Royal Bafokeng Sports Complex near Rustenburg which, as BBC Sport revealed in September, is where England are likely to stay for the tournament.
Former England defender Gary Mabbutt, who has been advising the World Cup organisers about their team bases, says: "Any team with ambitions of winning the World Cup needs to be based at altitude."
Rustenburg is 4,920 ft above sea level, which is higher than every host city apart from Johannesburg, at 5,750 ft. All eight groups will feature games played at both sea level and altitude, as will the knock-out games.
"Going from altitude to sea level is a benefit. Going the other way, the team would be absolutely shattered," added Mabbutt.
And the World Cup ambassador thinks Rustenburg, which is a two-hour drive north of Johannesburg, would be a good location in which to be based.
"This is a very quiet spot of the country with some beautiful scenery," he said. "It will also be one of the best climates. Johannesburg can get very cold in the mornings and nights, while Cape Town can be very wet in the winter. Rustenburg will be much warmer and drier."
The mining town of Rustenburg is a stark contrast to England's glamorous 2006 base, Baden Baden though.
There are no luxury shops or boutiques there and my BBC Sport colleague Gabby Logan, who will present a special Inside Sport programme on the World Cup on Monday, said: "I couldn't help noticing as we stopped off at the Shell garage on the way down to Rustenburg that it was probably the highlight of the area.
"Perhaps we'll get the players nipping out to the garage for a can of pop in the evenings."
Mabbutt thinks the lack of distractions in the area will appeal to Capello though.
"Teams will be looking to get their players focussed on the job at hand, which is to win the World Cup final," he said.
"This is a very quiet part of the country, with the main attraction about 30km away at Sun City, and that would appeal to any manager."
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