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England-Italy clash in Manaus heat

Saturday, June 14, 2014

RIO DE JANEIRO - The heat and humidity will be a factor, and so will the poor playing surface, when the Amazonian jungle city of Manaus hosts England and Italy in its first World Cup match tomorrow.

The most exotic of Brazil's 12 host cities got one of the tournament's best games, a Group D match between two former World Cup champions.

It's a match that neither team believes it can afford to lose.

With Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli on one side working against Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard on the other, there will be plenty of superstar quality to marvel at and deflect attention from the subpar quality of the field.

Even the head groundsman at the Arena da Amazonia said the grass was "in bad shape."

But the field may not be as stifling as the heat. Temperatures are expected to be about 32 degrees Celsius, and the humidity always seems to hover around 80 per cent in Manaus.

The team that can run for 90 minutes under those circumstances might just be the team that leaves the jungle city with three points.

Before coming to Brazil, England spent some time in Miami to acclimatise to the hot conditions. Now that they are in South America, it's time to prepare for Pirlo.

"It's important we don't give him much time and space when we come up against him because he can influence any game," said Gerrard, the England captain. "He has got that ability."

Pirlo has been getting better with age. He's 35 now, but only two years ago the midfield maestro was instrumental in leading Italy to the European Championship final.

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