Steven Gerrard has promised that England will not sit back but “go for the jugular” against Italy tonight as the national team begin their World Cup campaign in the heat and expectation of this Amazon city.
In a heartfelt but considered analysis of the blend of youth and experience in Roy Hodgson’s squad, the captain Gerrard, playing at his third World Cup, said that England had a game plan in place that was “not negative”. He said that the team would have to make the right judgement call on when to attack their opposition but that they would take the game to Italy.
“Our plan is not to sit back and camp out on the edge of our box and see what happens,” Gerrard said. “We have a game plan to go and attack with confidence and belief, but one of Roy Hodgson’s main strengths is having a team that is set up and well-organised and that will never change.
“But it is the players’ responsibility to get the transition right on when to be bold and brave and attack and go for the jugular and when to stick together when times are tough.”
The key decision to be made by Hodgson is whether Raheem Sterling or Danny Welbeck occupies the right side – with the likelihood that it will be Welbeck. Jordan Henderson is favourite to start in midfield alongside Gerrard, who will win his 112th cap tonight, three short of David Beckham’s England record for an outfield player. The Liverpool man has even shaved his beard off for the occasion.
Gerrard said that the Football Association’s preparation had put “everything in place” for their players to succeed. “It is here now. All the distances and the miles we have covered, the heat preparation, we have done all that. There are no excuses now. It is time to walk the walk.”
At 34, and playing in what could be his last run of games in an international career that has stretched across 14 years, Gerrard said that in his final speech to his team-mates his key message would be: “Let’s not have any regrets.”
“I will say: ‘All the preparation is there, let’s believe we have all the energy and all the work in the legs and in the tank. Let’s relax and let it happen.’ The key is just to not come off the pitch with any regrets and basically do what it takes to get that result. People are saying to me, ‘Would you be happy with a draw?’
“For me, I think we can win this game so I would never settle for a draw before a game. If we are unable to win the game then we have to take a draw at least.
“Without disrespecting Costa Rica, if that was the first game then maybe that could affect what attitude you go into the game with. Maybe people take it as a gimme and more pressure comes with being expected to win. Whereas I feel this is the perfect opener for us because if we do perform how we know we can, and we get that big result that we need, then it can go an awful long way to carry us through. The confidence and belief we would get if we do get the right result could be massive.”
The weather forecast for Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region, is around 30C for 6pm tonight, when the game kicks off at local time. The humidity, which the FA has been concerned about from the start, is expected to be at 50 per cent. Certainly, the conditions in recent evenings have been hot but not unbearable.
Gerrard said that England would have to give some consideration to the weather conditions. “We have to be clever and cute,” he said. “People talk about playing the Liverpool way, but to go to Manaus and play the Liverpool way may not be possible.
“Yes, we can go and attack and show tempo, pace and try and hunt them down and win the ball, but there will be times in the game when it will be tough on the legs and tough on the lungs. We are going to have to get the shout out for the squad to be close, narrow and hard to beat. That is just common sense.
“I will be proud leading this group of players out against Italy,” Gerrard added. “I trust the players and I believe in my team-mates. I will be even prouder if we come home from this tournament with our heads held high, knowing that we have gone out on to the pitch and given everything we have got for the English public back home.
“And looking at the lads and being in and around them, I get the impression they are ready to give everything they have got.”
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