Stopping Italy’s Andrea Pirlo key to England’s game plan in Manaus

Astonishing attention to detail by FA in run-up to critical opening fixture

An aerial view of England’s training session in progress at the Urca military base near Copacabana beach yesterday.  Photograph: Wong Maye-E).

An aerial view of England’s training session in progress at the Urca military base near Copacabana beach yesterday. Photograph: Wong Maye-E).

 
Moonraker

villain who is known for his bite. Though Luis Suarez, strictly speaking, is next week’s problem.

For now the team are planning for Saturday’s game against Italy and still getting used to the pounding heat. Chris Smalling had barely been out five minutes when one of the Football Association’s sports scientists, Barry Drust, could be seen bringing out a spray and cooling him down in the way someone might water a geranium. Rickie Lambert was handed a water bottle and emptied the contents over his head. Inside the dressing rooms the team have an industrial fan that blows water vapour over the players. That system will be going with them on the plane to Manaus, where the heat and humidity will be even more intense.

This was the only time an England training session will be open to the public this week and the FA has even sent people up Sugar Loaf to check there are no spying points from the cable cars that take people back to and down from Praia Vermelha every hour.

Before every tournament a manager likes to say his team are perfectly prepared. Hodgson did not have that luxury when he was parachuted into the job just before Euro 2012 but he says it now and genuinely seems to mean it.

Attention to detail The FA has sent out turf specialists to work on the grass, making sure it is the same length as the team will find at the Arena de Amazonia on Saturday to the millimetre. Scientists from Loughborough University have designed

recovery drinks for each player depending on their sweat outputs.

All that is really left is for England to show they can take care of business.

That was beyond them the last time they faced the Italians in a major competition, the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, when Andrea Pirlo put together more passes than England’s entire midfield quartet. This time the common view is that Hodgson needs one of his attackers to drop back and make sure the doyen of Italy’s team does not have the space to run the game. Wayne Rooney is one candidate, Welbeck another. Yet there is another way to prevent another peacock-like spreading of Pirlo’s feathers and that is for England to keep the ball themselves.

“How are we going to stop Pirlo? What we’re going to do first of all is play better this time than we did then,” said Hodgson. “The Italy game was actually our worst performance of that tournament and all the players would agree with me. We didn’t think we played anywhere near as well as we could.

“Against a tiring team Pirlo had a very good game because he’s a very good player. But we did show incredible character, incredible determination and incredible fight because, although we weren’t playing well, we kept a very strong Italian team at bay for 120 minutes and actually gave ourselves a chance of winning on penalties.

“What are we going to do this time? First we will play a lot better and we will play with more energy . . . We will be even more compact. We’re also going to make certain that Italy have a lot more to concern themselves about with our attacking play.” Guardian Service

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