Of all England’s past World Cup stars, Steve McManaman might be best equipped to discuss the Three Lions' gruelling trip to Manaus. The genial Scouser, who adapted so well to life in Madrid, is sitting in the specially created Lucozade Conditioning Zone that replicates the kind of heat and humidity England’s players will experience against Italy on Saturday.
McManaman takes a swig of his drink – but he has sympathy for what lies ahead. He knows a thing or two about playing in the stifling heat: “While I was at Real Madrid I often played in Seville in August so I know what sort of heat they’ll face,” he says, “but it’s the humidity too.”
With that in mind we asked the former England man to name his team for the opening World Cup game against Italy. Rainforest or no rainforest, Macca wants to get on the front foot...
“All I hear about is how good our opponents are, but what about our players?” he says. “I think the youngsters are so exciting and I would let them at it from the off. I want to see a team that is looking to make a statement and looking to immediately progress through the group.”
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
“Joe is such a mainstay now, and I’ve been very impressed by how he got over his blip this season. It’s great that England have such a secure last man now.”
Right-back: Glen Johnson
“He’s come in for some stick recently but his fitness is vital, and his ability to get up and down will be key to the team’s attacking ambitions.”
Centre-back: Gary Cahill
“Gary has had a good season and is now among the best defenders in the Premier League. He has played very well in the latter stages of the Champions League so I have no worries about the Chelsea man.”
Centre-back: Phil Jagielka
“Another one who knows how to handle the best strikers around, because he does it week in, week out for Everton. Had a few fitness scares but he and Cahill are now England’s main partnership and I’m sure they’ll do OK.”
Left-back: Leighton Baines
“Another consistent Premier League defender and worth his place as England’s No.1 left-back because of his performances over the last few seasons. Dangerous with the dead ball too.”
Centre midfield: Steven Gerrard
“Steven will relish this and I don’t think he’ll stifle his game for the conditions. His range of passing will be vital as England need to keep possession and it won’t be just short passes. If Wayne Rooney is free 50 yards away, he’ll stick it on a plate for him.”
Centre midfield: Jordan Henderson
“Jordan can be Stevie’s legs and I’m very impressed with him. I like that Hodgson has given the likes of Jordan a chance; it looks like he’s doing it on merit, and that can only be a good thing. That youthful energy will be vital and they don’t come more energetic than Henderson.”
Right-wing: Raheem Sterling
“I’m starting Raheem because I think he can be our surprise. James Milner can do a job in there but by going for Raheem I think we’re sending out a very positive message: I’d go attack-minded. I think with Italy, there are no surprises: Pirlo, Balotelli – guys we know about, but we can get at them and easily beat them. What impresses me about Sterling is his ability to switch tactics and position in games. Terry Venables had us doing that in 1996 and players who are so flexible are vital in these tournaments.”
Second striker: Wayne Rooney
“Wayne is under pressure but he will get a chance. How long he gets a chance I don’t know, but I’d play him in Manuas. He has a lot of people to prove wrong but that might work for England. There will be a job to do on Pirlo, of course, and while Wayne mustn’t get bogged down doing that, it must be done. The other forwards and even Henderson will look to stifle Pirlo, but don’t waste energy if he’s too deep. I’m happy for him to be getting it from his back four.”
Left-wing: Adam Lallana
“Lallana is used to the pressing game at Southampton, and while the conditions won’t allow for that sort of intensity I think his progression is so impressive. He’s gone from average to outstanding, and I would definitely get him on from the start. He’s 26, you don’t have to ease him in. Just let him go.”
Striker: Daniel Sturridge
“All I keep hearing is about how good the strikers are from the teams we’re playing. Suarez, Balotelli, Cavani; give it a rest, I know – but we have great goalscorers, too. I think Daniel is now playing with that world-class swagger and I fancy him to get us goals.”
I really like Ross Barkley but I think he will be eased in and used as an impact sub. There are times when he should pass, and there are times when he should keep it; I do think he’s raw but he is a great talent and can have an impact and he will improve tenfold over the next few weeks.
The Ox [Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain] is very close for me. I like him and if he’s fit he will push for inclusion.
Rickie Lambert’s story is amazing and I think he can be great from the bench. He’s great on the ball, his link-up play is fantastic and he plays clever football around the box. Anyone who says he’s just a big No.9 doesn’t watch football.
The Lucozade Sport Conditions Zone in Canary Wharf is open until June 24, so 5-a-side teams can experience what it’s like to play in the conditions of England's World Cup opener. It’s completely free to register and play; see www.lucozadesport.com/conditionszone.
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