x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Italy must embrace Fifa World Cup challenges

Azzurri cannot be making excuses about heat and exhaustion if they want to lift trophy again, writes Ian Hawkey.

Cesare Prandelli, the Italy coach, has suggested a drinks break during their World Cup fixture at Manaus. Nelson Almeida / AFP
Cesare Prandelli, the Italy coach, has suggested a drinks break during their World Cup fixture at Manaus. Nelson Almeida / AFP

From the moment the draw for Group B at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was made last Friday, the city of Manaus has had quite a media makeover.

Manaus is the gateway to one of the world’s great natural wonders, the Amazon jungle, although to follow some European media reports, it would seem about as suitable to host the game between Italy and England as Mogadishu. Manaus is the most remote of the World Cup sites, a four-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro. Its heat and humidity levels in June are at the upper extreme for any venue.

Certainly, conditions will test endurance.

Hence the call by Cesare Prandelli, Italy’s head coach, for a system of authorised drink breaks, a sensible precaution as long as it is not abused by teams seeking to waste time.

And hence Prandelli’s first reaction to a hard draw – Uruguay are also in the group – in which he stressed the need for “23 athletes” in his squad, a bad signal, for those lobbying for recalls to the Azzurri for the thirtysomething veterans Antonio Cassano and Francesco Totti.

Yet however concerned he and Roy Hodgson, his England counterpart, are about the extra difficulties imposed on an already tough contest, to overstress the difficulties will be counter-productive. Teams who thrive at big overseas tournaments are usually those who embrace the challenge, enjoy the trip and approach hurdles positively.

Pessimism and complaint are not helpful squad members.

sports@thenational.ae