Wednesday 18 October 2017

England at fever pitch as draw puts them on way to jungle

Roy Hodgson and Greg Dyke at the World Cup draw yesterday
Roy Hodgson and Greg Dyke at the World Cup draw yesterday

Henry Winter

Roy Hodgson was hardly singing in the rainforest at the news that England have been sent to Manaus, the capital of the jungle.

With FIFA dismissing as "nonsense" that England's opening Group D game with Italy will be moved away from Manaus on June 14, Hodgson has the trip he did not want, up the Amazon, against experienced opponents who knocked England out of Euro 2012.

With Luis Suarez and Uruguay up next in Sao Paulo on June 19, England could go into their final game, against Costa Rica on June 24, struggling for oxygen and facing the prospect of failing to reach the second stage of a World Cup for the first time since 1958.

The location of their final Group D game, Belo Horizonte, will bring back alarming memories of losing to the United States in 1950.

Geoff Hurst, who drew England's ball and sent them to Manaus and into the group of Suarez, Balotelli and Bryan Ruiz, has accidentally complicated England's World Cup ambitions.

A more recent wearer of the England No 10 shirt, Wayne Rooney, will hardly fear anyone – a self-belief Hodgson could do with throughout the squad.

Arsenal's No 10, Jack Wilshere, immediately posted a defiant tweet: "Tough group... but so what? If we want to win it we will have to play the best teams anyway!!''

Wilshere's determination is to be applauded, but the look on Hodgson's face, and Greg Dyke's slow finger across the throat, signalled English concerns.

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The feeling persists that England will need to be at their fittest, sharpest and freshest to survive Group D.

The draw smiled on Brazil and they look even stronger favourites to lift the trophy. "It's a tough group of course, but we are not the only team that's in a tough group,'' said Hodgson.

"Suarez and Balotelli will be enormous threats. But we've also got a big threat. I'd like to think if Daniel (Sturridge) can keep doing what he's doing and Wayne can continue the form he's in then we'll have a threat as well. We don't want to get too hung up on opponents."

There have already been whispers among broadcasters that England's game against Italy, scheduled for a 9.0pm local kick-off (2.0am Irish time) could be switched away from Manaus, but a FIFA spokesman dismissed such talk as "nonsense."

England would hardly be pleased at the thought of it being brought forward into the more furnace-like heat of the early evening.

"At 9.0pm the weather will be 21-22C inside the stadium,'' said Leonardo Novellino of the Manaus mayor's office. "It will be 30C outside.''

Earlier in the week, Hodgson had hardly endeared himself to Amazonians with his comments that he was more worried about travelling to tropical Manaus than facing Lionel Messi, but peace broke out last night. "We will welcome England fans to Manaus with warmth, good food and parties," added Novellino.

Hodgson will have a 3,500-mile round trip from their Rio base. "My fear wasn't one long trip, which most teams are going to have to do,'' said Hodgson. "My fear was having to move the base camp if all our games had been in the north. We've been lucky in that respect. We can stay in Rio because our other games are in São Paulo and Belo Horizonte.''

Both of these are within 300 miles of Rio. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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