The weight on the ball from Gerrard is trademark perfect, slid in behind the Italian centre-halves who can only stare at each other’s hipster beards in blind panic as Peck steams in from the right flank to meet it. He has to score.
But what’s this? He’s collapsed. There’s barely five minutes on the clock at the Arena de Amazona in Manaus, and England’s World Cup dreams are in tatters as the oldest, fattest debutant in the tournament’s history can run no longer.
It took mere moments inside a superheated translucent testicle in south-west London for this reporter to confirm what has been known since long before England’s ball dropped in the worst possible place at the World Cup draw last December.
When they take to the pitch against the Italians in the Amazon rainforest’s jungle capital Manaus two weeks from Saturday, it’s going to be very hot, and it’s going to be very humid. Ladbrokes are offering 6-1 on a 0-0 draw in the match, their tightest odds on such an eventuality in the entire tournament. As if to prove it, they’ve set up a miniature biodome, complete with treadmill to mimic the expected minimum conditions – 30-degree heat and 80 per cent humidity.
It looks like a tiny version of Cornwall’s Eden Project, but inside it’s certainly no paradise. It’s hot. If you happened to be at Glastonbury in 2010, the year it baked and the tents were uninhabitable by half-five in the morning, it’s a little like that, but hotter.
The air is a sheen of warm water which meets the sweat that begins to prickle under the skin in an instant, then pours seemingly from everywhere.
Three minutes or so at 10mph has all but finished me off, but as I push the speed up to simulate a dashing sprint into the box – the type of movement the physiologists predict will be the most difficult in the conditions – I almost instantly push it back down again, genuinely fearful of flying off the back and into the array of tropical pot plants that have been assembled, presumably solely for aesthetic purposes.
Should England win, expect the morning headlines to rhapsodise on a theme of three lions being kings of the jungle, which will of course be entirely false. Nothing as straightforwardly menacing as a lion actually lives in the rainforest.
In the wet furnace of the Amazon, Mother Nature has forged far stranger things. Luminous frogs stuffed with poison so potent it leaks through their skin, bullet ants the size of your little finger, and yes, the candiru fish that swims up your wee, down your urethra and sets up home in your scrotum (although only one widely discredited case of such an occurrence has ever been recorded).
It’s reasonable to imagine Rooney, Gerrard and the rest are closer to their physical peak than I am. But even so, physiologists estimate they will lose five litres of sweat in the course of a 90-minute match, more than twice the two litres shed during a Premier League game in normal conditions of 10 degrees Celsius.
Last year scientists in Turkey were commissioned to do a study on the highest possible temperatures in which it is safe to play a competitive football match. At 40 degrees, “a risk of death” entered their calculations. Manaus could reach 35.
How regularly it’s said of the endless flow of foreign imports into English football: “Let’s see how they cope on a wet January night in Hull” or Grimsby or some other unglamorous northern town. By the same token, let’s see how England do on a June evening in Manaus.Reuse content