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England

50-50 Challenge: Scotland vs. England

50-50 Challenge
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 By Peter Thorne

Little noise ahead of England's opener

It's a sad state of affairs perhaps, but it sometimes seems that every England World Cup game in recent memory seems to hinge on the fitness of players rather than form, and early news that Danny Welbeck had suffered a thigh strain in training was guaranteed to be the major topic of conversation in the offices, shops and factories of England for most of the day.

With the hour-by-hour updates that seem to flow from the base camps at this time though, it now seems there is less concern about Welbeck and more worries about the malaria tablets that the England squad will be needing to take at their base in Manaus, Brazil.

Danny Welbeck is expected to be fit for England's opener versus Italy.
Danny Welbeck is expected to be fit for England's opener versus Italy.

Setting himself up as a team doctor, Wayne Rooney declared Welbeck "will be fine" and certain to overcome a slight strain in time to face Italy, if needed. What isn't so certain though is if Welbeck will actually start. England head coach Roy Hodgson seems to be leaning more toward playing with Raheem Sterling behind Daniel Sturridge with Rooney in a wider role on the left.

- Report: Welbeck sits out England training

- Brewin: Hodgson holds court as England count down

Rumours from the training ground indicate Hodgson has been impressed by the Liverpool player, although there must be concerns over his match fitness; the 19-year-old having barely played any competitive football over the past five weeks. Sterling by name, sterling by nature seems to be Hodgson's attitude though, declaring the player to be "as fit as a flea" and ready to go.

Speaking of annoying small insects though, there is concern over England's base in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest and the presence of mosquitoes. Although -- according to travel guides in the area, at least -- the acidity of the Rio Negro means that there are less of the pests than you might think, the England camp obviously can't take any chances, so a course of tablets taken over a seven-day period to prevent the disease will be undertaken by the whole squad.

The worry, though, is that there is a very real chance that a player or two may suffer some side-effects as a result -- stomach pain, headache, nausea and diarrhea are not uncommon -- and this is an unknown element that Hodgson could well do without. Nevertheless, the consequences of a player missing part of a Premier League season due to malaria is a possibility that the England hierarchy can't ignore, so there will undoubtedly be a few anxious faces around the camp as Hodgson and his technical staff keep an eye out for any change in pallor.

Other than the inevitable health scare stories though, this appears to be a happy squad with none of the customary disturbances and rumours emanating from within the hotel. Apart from Bobby Robson's 1990 squad in Italy -- a team borne by the antics of Paul Gascoigne -- it's difficult to remember a time when the England side has look so relaxed before a major tournament. Praise needs to go to Hodgson for this -- nominally a small thing to expect but a bigger thing to achieve -- and the general good feeling and lack of fear from the younger players has generated a sense that this English side may actually provide a few surprises and do better than expected.