England manager Roy Hodgson has told his players that World Cup starting places are up for grabs in the coming weeks.
Hodgson's 23-man squad touched down in the luxurious resort of Vale do Lobo in Vilamoura, Portugal, today to begin their World Cup preparations.
The resort is awash with top-class golf courses, and bars down by the yacht-filled harbour, but England’s players have been reminded of the reason why they are here.
All 23 squad members, plus standby players Jon Flanagan and John Stones, have been watching videos of their first Group D opponents Italy at their base.
Hodgson wants each and every one of them to be ready for facing the likes of Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli in Manaus.
Interestingly, Hodgson says he has only a faint idea of how his team will line up against the Italians, which makes the Portugal training camp, and the one that follows in Miami, incredibly important for the players who have made the cut.
“I have many ideas but no firm ideas,” Hodgson said when asked whether he knew what team he would send out in Manaus on June 14th.
“Not yet. I don’t need to do that yet. We are a long way off. I don’t know how the players are going to be performing in three or four weeks’ time. I don’t know how their fitness will be either.”
The idea of a warm-weather camp in the Algarve has been hampered slightly by intermittent showers and low temperatures.
But the forecast is for a hotter climate later in the week, which will help England start getting used to the sweltering climate that awaits them in Manaus.
Their opponents in the jungle are the nation that knocked England out of Euro 2012 on penalties following an energy-sapping 0-0 draw in Kiev.
The video of that game, and others played by Cesare Prandelli’s team, will be scrutinised in the upcoming days. “We are doing a lot of video work in Portugal,” Hodgson said.
“We will be showing the players in units aspects of the Italian game and how that affects us and what we are going to be wanting to do.
“We are not doing it as individual players. We are talking about how our midfield is going to attack or defend. It will be all the midfielders and not just the four or five who we might choose.”
All 25 players took part in training on Tuesday — including Manchester United defender Phil Jones, who was selected in the squad despite a shoulder injury.
Hodgson and his squad will return to England on Friday before reconvening at St George's Park on Monday — four days prior to their farewell friendly against Peru at Wembley.
Two days before that game Hodgson, along with coaches Gary Neville and Ray Lewington, will return to his former club Fulham to watch Italy take on the Republic of Ireland in a friendly.
He will not read much into the result, though. “I shall be there, but I shall be very careful with my judgements because those games are notoriously tricky,” the 66-year-old said.
“You either come away being very impressed or unimpressed and then the team you meet a few weeks later in a competitive game can be a totally different kettle of fish to the one you have seen in the friendlies.
“So I will be watching it and getting a few more ideas on the players I feel I know quite well anyway, but I won’t be making very bold judgements as competitive matches are very different.”