World Cup begins with clouds over Manaus and Sao Paulo

Manaus pitch Arena Amazonia

World Cup whispers: England concerns over pitch as untested Itaquerao hosts Brazil opener

LAST UPDATED AT 09:20 ON Thu 12 Jun 2014
MANAUS PITCH HITCH

The man responsible for the state of the Manaus pitch, where England play Italy on Saturday, has admitted it's not looking good ahead of the big game. Carlos Botella, head groundsman for the Royal Verd company who have overseen the laying of the turf at Manaus and six other World Cup stadiums admitted: "Frankly, Manaus is in bad shape... I don't think it'll be in good condition by the weekend." England will send a member of their backroom staff to inspect the stadium and make a report on the pitch when they arrive in Manaus later today. The Arena Amazonia, which holds 39,118 people, was constructed last year at an estimated cost of around £173m.

LESSON FROM LUXEMBOURG

Expose Italy's weakness against the counter-attack, and you will win on Saturday. That's the message to England from Luc Holtz, coach of Luxembourg, who held Italy to a 1-1 draw last week. "If Italy have a weakness it is that they can be hurt on counter-attacks," said Holtz, whose side are ranked 112th in the world. Explaining that Italy don't play in the traditional Azzurri way but are much more offensive with their full-backs often joining the attack, Holtz added: "It could be all about the quality of the transition from defence to attack... [England] need players who are fast and clever in the way they run into spaces."

BELGIANS PULL THE PLUG

Unrest in Brazil has claimed its first casualty. The USA's friendly match against Belgium scheduled for Thursday has been cancelled and instead the States will hold two training sessions at Sao Paulo FC. The game against the Belgians, intended to be played behind closed doors, is a victim of industrial action in the city with Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said he did not want to "take the risk" of travelling to Sao Paulo during strike action. "I don't want to sit in a bus for five hours," he said.

ITAQUERAO WILL BE ALRIGHT ON THE NIGHT?

The World Cup kicks off tonight with hosts Brazil playing Croatia in Sao Paulo. But the big question is whether the Itaquerao stadium is up to the job. As the Associated Press points out, owing to "chronic delays, worker deaths and other problems during its construction", World Cup organisers haven't been able to stage a full dress rehearsal ahead of tonight's match so no one knows if the Itaquerao's facilities will withstand the strain of a capacity crowd. "If that was me who had to run that event, I'd be extremely nervous," admitted John Beattie, president of the European Stadium and Safety Management Association.

PESSIMISM REIGNS

After almost 50 years of hurt, and despite being ranked tenth in world by Fifa, only four per cent of England fans believe Roy Hodgson's side can win the tournament according to a recent YouGov/Upshot study. The poll of 19 countries revealed that only Costa Ricans think their national side has a slimmer chance of winning. At the other end scale, host-nation Brazil are the most optimistic with 64 per cent of supporters confident the Selecao will secure their sixth World Cup title on home soil.      

ENGLAND'S MALARIA GAMBLE

Remember Gary Lineker's 'upset tummy' at Italia '90? There could be a repeat at Manaus on Saturday due to adverse side-effects from England's anti-malaria medication. One in ten people who take Malarone – the pills given to the England squad – suffer vomiting, headaches, stomach pains and diarrhoea. England's players were given their first Malarone pill at breakfast on Tuesday, 48 hours before their departure for Manaus, but there are fears "the treatment could hamper their performance against Italy at the Arena da Amazonia", reports The Guardian.

CAPELLO STILL RAKING IN THE MONEY

Dictatorial Russian boss Fabio Capello will be the highest paid manager at this summer's World Cup. Capello's current deal with the Russian FA is worth £7m a year, reveals the Daily Mail. That's twice as much as England boss, Roy Hodgson, the second best paid manager at the tournament. It also eclipses Luiz Felipe Scolari of Brazil (£2.4m), Joachim Low of Germany (£2.1m) and Spain's Vicente Del Bosque (£2m). But pity Mexico's Miguel Herrera, the competition's worst-paid manager, who has to make do with a modest £125,000. · 

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