Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Pitch worries for England ahead of World Cup opener against Italy

England will open their World Cup campaign against Italy on Saturday on a pitch that is far from world-class.

Roy Hodgson put his team through their final training session before they fly from Rio to Manaus for their Group D clash with the Azzurri.

But he'll be alarmed to see images from the venue that show a dry and bare surface punctuated with unsightly yellow lines.

The 46,000-seater Arena da AmazĂ´nia is arguably the most controversial of the 12 World Cup venues. Situated in one of Brazil's most remote areas, all materials for its construction had to be shipped along the Amazon river, swelling its cost to a whopping £190 million.

It will stage only four group games and the local team that will inherit the venue after the tournament currently has an average attendance of just over 1,000.

England officials – already concerned about the searing heat and oppressive humidity – will be concerned to see the state of the pitch, where they'll train on Friday ahead of this weekend's match with Cesare Prandelli's side.

FIFA delegates had expressed concern about the surface during a recent inspection, with the condition of the pitch blamed on undernourished grass following the excessive use of fertiliser. And local organisers had assured them the problem would be corrected in time for kick-off.

In addition, pictures distributed by FIFA's official photo agency show naked power cables in dressing rooms and workers still laying tarmac around the stadium concourses.

However, Gary Lineker – who exactly 28 years ago scored a World Cup hat-trick against Poland in scorching heat and on a pitch famously described as a 'potato field' – insists there should be no excuses from Hodgson's team.

"The pitch in Manaus may be poor but England must believe it's to their advantage," he tweeted.

"Give a player an excuse and he'll use it. Love the pitch."

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