UK & World News

  • 14 June 2014, 21:11

World Cup: England 'Well Prepared' For Opener

Roy Hodgson says his England side are prepared for the game that could set the tone of their tournament.

Questions about the heat, humidity and the state of the pitch in Manaus have dominated the final days of England's build up.

But in the heart of the Amazon, the manager says they are ready for whatever the environment can throw at them.

As England trained in the stadium around sunset at 6pm local time, the kick-off time today, temperatures dipped from above 30C to 26C. Still oppressive, but the manager believes they will cope.

"I think we are well prepared," Hodgson said.

"I don't think we are concerned about the heat and humidity because we have been training in heat and humidity."

As for the surface, Hodgson and his captain Steven Gerrard, who headed straight for the pitch on arriving at the stadium, say they have no concerns.

"I've just been on the pitch and it's totally fine," said Gerrard.

"The grass is a perfect length and the sun is off the pitch at half four and we don't kick off before six o'clock so I'm sure the water will stay on it and it will be quick and zippy and I think everyone is going to be in for a fantastic game."

Prime Minister David Cameron has sent a good luck message ahead of the match, saying the country is behind the England team "every step of the way".

"On behalf of the whole country I want to wish the England team the very best of luck for the World Cup," Mr Cameron said.

"There is nothing like a World Cup to bring our country together."

If the surroundings hold no fear for England, then they are unlikely to phase the Italians either. The pitch and the heat are the same for both sides, and may prove to be a leveller.

Two years after they were outplayed by Italy in Ukraine in the Euro 2012 quarter-final, it remains to be seen how they will cope with what is largely the same Italian side.

And therein lies the fascination of England's opening fixture.

Hodgson's emerging team, likely to be with staffed with inexperienced young players, face an Italian team long in the tooth and orchestrated by the peerless Andrea Pirlo.

The outcome will set the tone for the tournament for both teams.

The main selection dilemma has been over who to play in the attacking trio behind Daniel Sturridge.

Wayne Rooney, starting his third World Cup and still looking for a goal, seems certain to join Adam Lallana, with Danny Welbeck favourite to take the third berth.

Raheem Sterling is the rising star of the squad, dazzling for Liverpool and excelling in training for his country.

In a game neither side dare lose Hodgson is likely to rely on Welbeck, one of his trusted players valued for his defensive diligence as well as his attacking pace.

With Sterling, Ross Barkley and Ricky Lambert in reserve on the bench, Hodgson will hope he has the ammunition to change the game if required. Getting enough possession to control it may be another matter.

A high-tempo game may be beyond both sides in the stultifying heat, meaning England will have to deny Pirlo in particular time and space. The best way to do that is to keep the ball.

It will not be easy. Italy have reached the final in two of their last four major tournaments as well as a semi-final appearance at last year's Confederations Cup.

But with 5,000 fans having travelled up the Amazon to back them, England are hopeful they will not end up this particular creek without a paddle.

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