A tough Amazon test awaits England in Manaus

The Arena da Amazonia will play host to England's opening group game against Italy. Photo: Raimundo Valentim/EFE/Press Association Images

The moment you leave the airport terminal in Manaus you know you've landed in another world. The heat smothers you and the air you inhale is warm and damp.

And I've just walked off a plane; imagine playing 90 minutes of international football in these punishing conditions.

That is far from the only challenge facing England's footballers in the Amazon and I'm not just talking about giant Boa Constrictors, malaria and dengue carrying mosquitos, piranha fish, spiders the size of dinner plates or any other local attraction.

The head groundsman in Manaus has already admitted the pitch is in 'bad shape' and there's nothing at this stage he can do about it.

The pitch in Manaus is in a 'bad state', the head groundsman has admitted. Credit: Reuters

It is a patchy and sandy surface, almost end of season Conference standard and this for a game when, for both sides, keeping the ball is going to be so important. Technique and temperament will be tested to its limits.

In all his years as a manager, never before have substitutes been more important to Roy Hodgson; not just who they are but how he uses them.

If he sticks to type he will start with Danny Welbeck (assuming he's fit) and James Milner, for this game only edging out Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana.

Roy Hodgson may prefer to use Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling as an impact substitute. Credit: Adam Davy/EMPICS Sport

In an ideal world he would then use Sterling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley as impact replacements early in the second half, perhaps when England are in need of fresh legs and fresh ideas.

Either that or they'd come on to inject some real pace into the match and kill it off.

In the past two weeks there is no question that it is England's youngsters who have been the stand out performers, so it would be very tempting to throw them all in against Italy and 'go for it.' It would also be the wrong thing to do.

England boss Roy Hodgson is likely to adopt a cautious approach against Italy. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire/Press Association Images

This is where Hodgson earns his corn; he needs a blend of speed and flair going forward of course, but he also requires discipline and experience to help out his defensive line.

If not quite England's Achilles heel, it is not secure enough to keep out the world's best strikers single-handedly and it will look to reliable reinforcements from the midfield ranks.

While England can still progress if they lose to Italy, if they do, the other two group games suddenly become even more tense than they already will be. Leaving Manaus with at least a point will make a significant difference.

England need a big performance from striker Wayne Rooney in Manaus. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire/Press Association Images

Hodgson wouldn't be drawn this week on whether he'd be cautious or fearless against Italy. You can bet your life on it being the former, unless of course Italy are ahead with thirty minutes to go.

What the manager could do with most of all on Saturday is a dominant, scoring performance from Wayne Rooney.

He must be the best striker to have played in two World Cups and still be without a goal.

If he can find some form from somewhere, in an instant Roy Hodgson's job becomes an awful lot easier and England's World Cup future looks an awful lot brighter.

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