Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 06/14/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Listen carefully. If you don't make a sound you just might hear it. Or not.
That's the thing with silence. It's an absence, not a noise. The way white is not a colour. With their World Cup opener scheduled for today, the England football team is an absence of colour and sound.
Typically, with a major, international campaign about to get underway, the commotion coming out of the England camp would be unbearable. This player or that would be making audacious predictions; the domestic press corps would be writing home about beckoning history, referencing 1966 as some sort of holy year, a pilgrimage of memory. There would be an almighty clamour.
Not this time.
Since landing in Brazil via Miami, the England players and coaches have been models of serenity, and the reporters dispatched to cover them have picked up on the unexpectedly tranquil vibe.
"Refreshingly different" was how Luke Edwards described the Three Lions in the Telegraph, adding "this appears to be the first national squad in years to have become genuinely popular in the eyes of the public."
An infusion of youth has had something to do with that, as have restrained expectations. It's all combined to create, as left-back Leighton Baines told the Football Association's official website on Friday, "as good a group as there's been" during his time as an international.
Even manager Roy Hodgson, who went for a walk on the beach during the week, has warned against over-confidence.
"I must advise caution," he remarked ahead of this afternoon's match against Italy. But, he continued, "I'm not trying to play down the fact that the future looks quite bright and there are interesting times ahead."
Those times are still some ways off in the distance--or at least likely to arrive after this World Cup rather than during it.
For now there is simply quiet, which for England is its own kind of victory.
Italy is expected to be without AC Milan full-back Mattia De Sciglio against England. The 21-year-old has a thigh injury, which means Azzurri manager Cesare Prandelli could move Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini to the left. England boss Roy Hodgson will not have the injured Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at his disposal, although Danny Welbeck (thigh) could be fit in time for kick-off.
The pitch in Manaus was so dry ahead of England-Italy that stadium officials opted to spray-paint the grass in order to hide the dry patches. The heat and humidity will likely see the match in the Amazon port city take on flat tempo, and substitutions could have an especially vital role as a result.
Daley Blind enjoyed a breakout, international performance on Friday. The versatile Ajax man, who can also play as a deep-lying midfielder, was used as a wing-back for the Netherlands against Spain and set up spectacular goals by Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben.
The offside rule has already become a subject of controversy at the World Cup, with several goals incorrectly disallowed by officials. Incidentally, this is the first World Cup to feature goal-line technology. The next one, or more likely the one after that, could see the introduction of a robust video replay system.
Demonstrations continue to take place throughout Brazil, although for the time being many protesters have found a unique balance between their calls for social progress and supporting the Selecao--as we saw during last summer's Confederations Cup. All that could change, however, if Brazil go out of the tournament before the final. It is, as they say, "ouito ou oitenta." Eight or eighty. It's one extreme or the other.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 14, 2014 C4
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