When Steven Gerrard leads England out on to the dry surface of the Arena Amazonia on Saturday, he will be brimming with pride, and more importantly – he will be full of confidence that his men can beat Italy.
England have left no stone unturned in preparation for this Group D game. Sports scientists, video analysts, nutritionists and a world-renowned psychiatrist have been recruited to make sure England go into the game in the best condition possible.
Roy Hodgson and his 23-man squad have clocked up more than 12,000 miles travelling to Portugal, London and Miami to take part in friendlies against Peru, Honduras and Ecuador. Sweat pads, heat chambers, industrial fans and ice baths have been used to help the players be in the best physical shape when they step out into the sweltering Manaus heat.
There has been only one minor injury to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and for the most part the friendly performances have been encouraging, so with all that in mind, Gerrard knows England simply must start their World Cup campaign with a bang this weekend.
“All the distances and the miles we have covered, the heat preparation, we have done all that so there are no excuses now. It is time to walk the walk,” the England captain said. “In general for footballers, when things don’t go right, the easy way out is to look for an excuse.
“You look at other people and point fingers and blame others and say well that wasn’t right, this wasn’t right. But the FA have put everything in place, they have done everything they possibly can for the players to perform. And looking at the lads and being in and around them, I get the impression they are ready to give everything they have got.”
Gerrard got England off to the perfect start in their penalty shootout against Italy in Euro 2012, but he then watched on from the centre circle in misery as Ashley Young and Ashley Cole missed, sending Cesare Prandelli’s team through.
Andrea Pirlo’s spectacular penalty rounded off an impressive night for the Italy midfielder, who dictated play throughout. The theory goes that England should sit back, absorb Italy’s pressure and go for the draw this time around.
But Gerrard says there is no chance of that happening in Manaus. “I think with the players Roy has picked he has shown his intent. He has a game plan in place and it is not negative,” the Liverpool midfielder said.
“It is not sit back and camp out on the edge of our box and see what happens. We have a game plan to go and attack with confidence and belief. 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.”