World Cup 2014: England promised hostile reception after Roy Hodgson gaffe

 

The mayor of Manaus, Artur Virgilio, has suggested that the hot reception awaiting England in the city may not be restricted to the sweltering local temperatures. "We are going to make England welcome in Manaus. But that won't stop us cheering for Italy. There are a lot of Italian fans in Brazil. Our connection with Italy goes way back," he said in reference to the large number of descendants of Italian immigrants.

The mayor's hostility to England was a reaction to Roy Hodgson's pre-draw assessment that "Manaus is the venue to be avoided", a comment which prompted Virgilio to hit back at the time with: "We hope to get a better team and a coach who is more sensible and polite."

Once the draw did send England to Manaus, it was the turn of locals on the streets of the city to get stuck into the Hodgson.

"He spat in the air and it fell back in his face," said self-employed trader Mateus Assis, a colourful local way of saying that the manager's comments had come back to bite him. "I want England to suffer here, with the heat and then with a defeat at the Arena Amazonas. I feel a bit sorry for the England team. Some people are going to give them a hostile reception."

Mayor Virgilio even brought up a long-standing historical grievance which may also turn local support against England. "The English smuggled our rubber away," he complained. "They stole our natural resources. There is a big debt to be paid."

He was referring to the English explorer Henry Wickham, who removed thousands of rubber seeds from the Amazon at the end of the 19th century, seeds which were eventually used to establish the rubber industry in Asia, so bringing the Brazilian rubber boom and Manaus's most prosperous era to a premature end.

Interestingly, Virgilio's hostility to England was in sharp contrast to what he told The Independent on Sunday following Friday's draw, when he was in a chirpy mood after Manaus had drawn a number of enticing games, such as England v Italy and Portugal v USA.

"I am delighted with the draw. There are a lot of quality teams coming to Manaus, like Switzerland, who were seeded. Everybody knows how good Italy are and Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo," he said.

And England? "They are a good team too. I like English football. I admire Chelsea and Manchester United. And I know that Manchester City have improved a lot in recent years."

Virgilio was even in upbeat mood about England's World Cup chances. "England are one of the teams that could win the World Cup," he said, before reconsidering his words a little. "Though there are a lot of good teams in the tournament."

He seemed perplexed rather than angered by Hodgson's unwillingness to sample the delights of local delicacies such as tacaca (a soup dish made with herbs and prawns) and pato no tucupi (duck with local ingredients).

"Fifa did a survey of which parts of Brazil people wanted to visit during the World Cup and the Amazon region came third behind Rio and Sao Paulo," he said. "England fans can expect a warm welcome in Manaus. The food is great plus there is the natural beauty and the biodiversity. I don't know why people wouldn't want to come to Manaus."

Amazonas state governor, Omar Aziz, was also in no doubt that England fans will enjoy the city. "We are not going to let the isolated opinion of one person ruin things," he said. "England supporters don't need to worry. They will get a fabulous welcome in Manaus. We have a long history with England," he added, in another reference to English commercial activity in Manaus during the rubber boom.

And what about the England manager? "We've already forgotten about Hodgson."

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