MANAUS, Brazil -- With all the pregame focus on the conditions of the pitch at the Arena de Amazonia, there are plenty of other things for England to keep in mind when they play Italy on Saturday.
1. It's hot. Very hot.
Stifling does not come close to describing the temperatures felt when this Englishman walked the streets of Manaus. Only in the famed summer of 1976 did our country regularly enjoy/suffer beyond 100 degrees fahrenheit. Here, placing one foot in front of the other becomes an ever more perspiring chore as the sun beats down on a town just 214 miles from the equator.
Woe betide, then, Jordan Henderson, Liverpool and England's answer to the Road Runner. It is his job to provide the legs in midfield, as his captain alongside him, Steven Gerrard, is no longer capable of doing the box-to-box stuff. Should Henderson play his normal game, it will be a miracle if he lasts much beyond the 60-minute mark. If he does, then he might consider endurance running as a secondary career.
2. It gets wet. Very wet.
The flip side of spending time in the tropics is that the raw heat is coupled with a humidity that measured around 70 percent at one point on Thursday; Friday was a gentle 65 percent.
Humidity must break, however, and it does so into a rainfall beyond torrential. On Thursday, a mother of all storms descended, and those in the media centre found themselves looking fearfully at the bending metal joists holding up a canvassed roof.
An Englishman knows rain better than many a nationality, but not in this form. Water was flooding down the streets and walkways like tributaries of the Amazon itself. This might have had a beneficial effect on the stadium's playing surface, but instead, four hours of downpour on Thursday did little to prevent it looking bare, sparse and requiring the green paint used to mask its deficiencies.
3. Plenty of bite.
The English are not good with insects. The most threatening airborne threat we have to deal with is the vicious but not particularly harmful horsefly, or maybe an angry queen bumblebee. Out here, mosquitos rule the skies, and carry with them the threat of some very nasty illnesses. One of the English media's obsessions is how the squad is getting on with their malaria tablets, a source of frequent discussion between all travellers to this region.
- Brewin: Heat is on as England arrive in Manaus
- Blog: Pitch tensions rise ahead of England-Italy
- Cox: Heat and Pirlo will stifle England
- Horncastle: Loyal De Rossi ready for battle
- 50-50 Challenge: England vs. Italy
Mosquitoes seem to especially enjoy the succulent pink flesh of the uninitiated visitor from Northern Europe. The best way to avoid them, beyond spraying your entire form in DEET repellant, is to hide in an air-conditioned room. This option, of course, is not open to Roy Hodgson's team.
4. There be monsters
Unless you are driving from Peru or kayaking down the Amazon, there is no direct route to Manaus on the earth's surface. Air travel is the normal means of arrival, and the view that visitors receive on approach to Eduardo Gomes International Airport is breathtaking -- jungle and river captured together as far as the eye can see.
Upon exiting the plane, though, such terrain holds plenty of fears for the nervous traveller. Here lurk monkeys, piranhas, anacondas and crocodiles. When the World Cup draw was made, certain UK tabloids suggested that all of the aforementioned species roamed Manaus' streets freely, when in fact, a stroll round the city will find what seems a most normal regional town with very little cohabitation between man and beast. This is actually a city of 2 million people.
5. Speaking my language?
It ought to be a source of national shame that the English are so appalling at learning foreign languages. The counter-argument is usually that people speak English everywhere anyway, but Brazil is a country to dash such claims. Even in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, very few speak the Queen's language fluently; that percentage is far lower when in the provincial towns, and remote Manaus is just such a place.
That calls for greater resourcefulness among visitors from the green and pleasant land. You might need to speak Portuguese -- "obrigado" is "thanks," while "chopp" will get you a beer.