When England’s World Cup squad touched down in Brazil, they were greeted with temperatures of 77 degrees celsius and a breath taking 89 per cent humidity.
Conditions like this are going to have a major effect on England’s ability to perform at a high tempo – especially if they reach the latter stages and have to play extra time. Roy Hodgson is an intelligent manager and his warm up preparation for the World Cup was calculated. The England manager elected to fly the players to high-humidity state of Miami in the United States so the players could acclimatise, and also opted to play two Latin American teams in Ecuador and Honduras.
This latter decision was a shrewd move from the manager given England will face similar opposition in Uruguay and Costa Rica in the group stages. Italy will also be more used to the heat than the England players and are notably a tough side to break down. The opening two games, the first on Saturday against a strong Italian side, and then against Uruguay the following Thursday are critical if England are to progress to the knock-out phase.
England warm up
England’s performances in Miami were far from inspiring. A 2-2 draw against Ecuador exposed defensive frailties, and poor finishing by Daniel Sturridge against Honduras suggested a lack of sharpness in front of goal. The Liverpool striker was having a bad day at the office rather than feeling the effects of the heat, and hopefully he has had his off day before the World Cup rather than during the competition.
The crucial factor for Hodgson’s men is that they learn from the mistakes in the warm-up. If the defence is carved open as easily as it was against Ecuador, strikers with the quality of Mario Balotelli, Luis Suarez and Edison Cavani will not show any mercy. Sturridge needs to produce the sort of performances he has shown for Liverpool this season, and maybe a repeat of the wonder goal he scored against Peru in England’s opening warm-up game.
There will be a lot of pressure on Wayne Rooney to produce the form for England in a major tournament that everyone knows he is capable of. Hodgson's experimental team had the Manchester United man on the left-hand side against Ecuador, but Rooney is better suited to a no.10 role just behind Sturridge and can impact the game more when given the freedom to roam.
Hodgson looks to prefer a 4-2-3-1 formation with two holding midfielders and a lone striker. It is arguably England’s best set up considering the personnel, but with Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain an injury doubt ahead of the opening game with Italy, Hodgson has a selection concern in midfield. There is enough quality players available, but it is difficult to find the right balance.
Jordan Henderson is likely to start alongside the captain to provide cover for a shaky back-four, and Rooney will play in an advanced midfield/striker role, but will be expected to perform defensive duties. Adam Lallana is expected to start on the right. Jack Wilshere, arguably one of England’s finest players is not suited to the left-wing. That role will most likely be taken by Danny Welbeck, although the young Raheem Sterling could take up the mantle if he turns in a performance to warrant a start. In the early games he will most likely be used as an impact substitute.
The key for England however, is the way they play. They will have to play possession football to preserve energy and keep a compact unit in defence. Against the likes of Italy you can imagine keeping the lion's share of possession will be a cumbersome task. Hodgson is a master tactician and also a cautious manager; playing to keep a clean sheet against Italy will most likely be his preferred option. After all, 0-0 will be a good result for England.
The crucial game is against Uruguay. It is a game they cannot afford to lose. A draw maybe enough, but a gamble. It will depend on results of the other games and possibly the sides that score the most against Costa Rica will go through. For England to emerge from the “group of death” they will have to manage their game plan to perfection in the sort of heat that will no doubt visibly take its toll on the players.
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