MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — When the eyes of the football world turn to this city in middle of the Amazon rainforest for the first time on Saturday, Roy Hodgson wants his youthful England team to be adventurous against Italy.
Having prepared for several weeks for the humidity, Hodgson won’t hear any excuses about the draining conditions at the Arena da Amazonia, calling on his players to emulate the entertainment seen in the opening games of the World Cup.
“We’ve seen attacking football, we haven’t seen one team defending, we’ve seen both teams going at each other,” Hodgson said Friday. “That might show why it’s possible to win games 3-1 (Brazil-Croatia) or 5-1 (Netherlands-Spain) because it’s not a game of football with only one team interested in winning where the other team is interested in either trying to keep the score down or not lose.”
When asked if England would be bolder, Hodgson replied: “England teams don’t go out to keep a clean sheet and not attack. And on this stage, we’d be even less inclined to do it.”
How daring will Hodgson be in England’s Group D opener? Probably not too impulsive with the starting lineup, saving some of the most inexperienced but talented youngsters, including 20-year-old midfielder Ross Barkley and 19-year-old winger Raheem Sterling, to be deployed from the bench.
“No doubt if I was watching from afar with no responsibility I’d be clamoring myself (for them to start),” Hodgson said. “These are the players who don’t have the baggage to carry with them, they are exciting talents with fantastic potential, but you have to be careful that we don’t throw them into the lions’ den too early.”
The younger players have to be an upgrade on the veteran ones before Hodgson lets them in.
“I won’t go for youth just because there is a clamor for youth,” Hodgson said. “I’ll only go for youth because youth will work and the person I’m putting on the field as a young player can cope with it, deal with it and show all of his qualities.”
Hodgson sees no reason why 24-year-old striker Daniel Sturridge, after scoring 21 league goals for Liverpool last season, can’t make a similar impact at his first World Cup to Pele back in 1958.
“When he came to Sweden in ’58 he wasn’t even well-known in Brazil,” Hodgson said. “A month later he’s superstar and went on to be an even greater superstar for goodness knows how many years.”
No one is more experienced in one of England’s youngest-ever World Cup squads than 34-year-old captain Steven Gerrard, who has made 111 appearances.
“We have also got that newness and freshness in the squad — the people everyone is talking about Raheem, (defender) Luke Shaw, Ross Barkley,” Gerrard said. “He has picked a very bold and brave squad. People talk about is Roy brave or negative? I think the 23 players he has picked he has shown his intent.”
Gerrard could be one of just six players in the starting lineup to have played in England’s quarterfinal loss on penalties against Italy at the 2012 European Championship. Goalkeeper Joe Hart, defender Glen Johnson, midfielder James Milner and forwards Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck are also in line to start.
“It is the players’ responsibility when 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,” Gerrard said. “There are going to be times when they help us in terms of providing a bit of energy or legs or a sprint back.”
Not that Hodgson is overly concerned about the heat here.
“We’ve prepared for them and aren’t making contingency plans because the game is being played in Brazil,” he said. “We’ll keep a close eye on the players to see if any of them are flagging a bit late on, we’ll change them.”
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
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