England World Cup campaign begins with Italian video night
Team trains in Portugal, and studies film of Italy, as they prepare for Amazon opener
England's World Cup preparations got serious on serious on Tuesday as the squad trained at the Vale do Lobo resort in Portugal. That run-out was followed by what The Times describes as "the first of many sessions with the FA's video analysis team". Together with the Football Association's performance analysis manager Andy Scoulding, Gary Neville has been busy compiling footage of Italy's recent matches so that when the two sides meet in Manaus on 14 June in their tournament opener England will know what to expect.
Defenders, midfielders and forwards will all be given their own video highlights packages going back two years to when Italy beat England on penalties in the quarter-final of the 2012 European Championships to study and digest.
"We are doing a lot of video work showing the players in units, aspects of the Italian game, how that affects us and what we want them to do," explained Hodgson at the start of the five day training camp. "We are doing it in units, not as individual players. We are talking about how our midfield is going to attack or defend. It will be all the midfielders involved and not just the four or five we might choose."
Hodgson will be present at Italy's friendly against the Republic of Ireland on 31 May – the day after England play their first warm-up match against Peru at Wembley - and, according to The Guardian, he has already decided that England will employ "a quick pressing style in midfield" against the Italians despite the searing humidity for which Manaus, in the Amazon rainforest, is famed. To that end, says the Guardian, "if Italy have the ball in defence his players will not be under instructions to chase it down automatically". Rather, Hodgson will work with his players in shutting down space in midfield when the Italians bring the ball out of defence.
That was as much as Hodgson was prepared to give away in his briefing to reporters, saying: "I have many ideas, but not firm ideas, because firstly we are such a long way off."
As experienced a manager as he is, Hodgson knows that all the World Cup sides are now in a phoney war and the real action won't start until the tournament kicks off on 12 June. "I shall have to be very careful with my judgments because those [friendly] games are notoriously tricky," said Hodgson of the matches all sides will be playing in the coming fortnight. "You can come away being very impressed or unimpressed and then the team you meet two or three weeks later in a competitive game can be a totally different kettle of fish to the one you have just seen in a friendly. 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 bold judgments. Friendlies and competitive matches are very different."
Italy have yet to trim their 30-man squad to the required number with coach Cesare Prandelli still undecided on the composition of his final 23. But on his aims at the tournament he was more certain when he spoke to reporters at Italy's Tuscan training centre. "This squad has been designed with getting to the final in mind," he declared. "It will be important to take three points from our first game and, in the process, beat a strong team."