Rio de Janeiro: Roy Hodgson and Jack Wilshere have vowed that England can now cope with Italy talisman Andrea Pirlo and the heat of Manaus.
England kick off their World Cup Group D campaign against Pirlo and Italy in hot and humid Manaus on Saturday. Midfielder Pirlo was Italy’s star performer in their Euro 2012 penalty shoot-out victory over England in Kiev.
Despite now being aged 35, Pirlo is still the player highlighted as being England’s biggest problem in Manaus. But manager Hodgson believes his team will be in a better condition to stop Pirlo passing his opponents off the park than two years ago.
“How are we going to stop Pirlo? What we’re going to do first of all is we’re going to play better against Italy this time than we did in Euro 2012,” said Hodgson.
“Of course, against a tiring team and a team that was playing with Pirlo, he had a very, very good game because he’s a very, very good player.
“What are we going to do this time against Pirlo? First, we’ll play a lot better, we’ll play with more energy because we’ll have more energy because it will be the first game in the tournament. We’ll be even more compact than we were in that game.
“We’re going to make certain also that Italy have a lot more to concern themselves with our attacking play, because one of the problems we had in that game is that we weren’t functioning well as an attacking unit. So Italy had too much of the ball and we were doing too much defending.
“One of our plans this time is to make certain we do a lot more attacking and that Italy find themselves wondering what they’re going to do about people like Steven Gerrard or Wayne Rooney.”
Wilshere agreed with Hodgson that England will have plenty of energy against the Italians. He claimed the squad were no longer scared of the heat and humidity they will face in Manaus and revealed that England were using industrial fans to blow water over the players to keep them fresh.
Asked if the conditions of Manaus hold any fears for England, Wilshere said: “I don’t think they do. Maybe before when we saw the draw, but not now we’ve prepared.
“We trained hard in Portugal, we trained with the extra layers, we went to Miami and stepped it up a little bit. Now we are feeling really good and we’ve got things in place – cooling systems in the dressing room, which are going to help us.
“It’s a like a fan and cold water comes out. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s good. I’ve never seen it before. It’s good.”
Wilshere also believes England can stop Pirlo, with one of the front three players dropping back to nick the ball off him. Other than Pirlo, England will be wary of the threat of former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli but Hodgson and Wilshere are confident they can deal with his threat.