12 Jun 2014

World Cup: could England’s Sterling be the man for Manaus?

After 48 years of hurt, few England fans believe their team have a chance of winning the World Cup. But there is plenty to look forward to in Brazil – great football, samba music and the caxirola.

So the World Cup is almost upon us again. Four weeks of agony for some fans, ecstasy for others, writes Becky Horsbrugh.

With the time difference between the UK and Brazil, many of the matches will be during moonlit hours. So take note, employers. There could be a few bleary-eyed workers in your midst.

But whichever team is crowned champions on 13 July, one thing is for sure. Whether through great goals, moments of pain, shameful displays on the pitch, the hand of God or epic celebrations, there’s sure to be drama at the World Cup.

Quadrennial question

For England fans, it’s the quadrennial question. Will Roy Hodgson and his men end all those years of hurt since the memorable triumph at Wembley in 1966? That’s 48 years now.

Only the most patriotic – and optimistic – of fans is likely to believe this could be the year. However a place at least in the quarter finals would be the hope of many – although they first have to get past the group stages.

This will be England’s 14th World Cup finals and their opening match on Saturday against Italy (2300 BST) will be a good indicator of the team’s strength. The big question will be whether Hodgson will go for youth and pace by putting faith in young Raheem Sterling (pictured above).

The teenage winger managed just 38 minutes during England’s three warm-up games, after being sent off in the match against Ecuador and banned from the following game against Honduras.

Man for Manaus

But his performances for his country and in Liverpool’s colours show he could be the man for Manaus. The squad is inexperienced but this could work to their advantage if their ability is under-estimated by their opponents.

The Italians are not the mighty force they were in 2006 when they lifted the trophy for a fourth time by beating France on penalties in Berlin.

They have failed to win a match since September last year. But the Azzurri will be looking to extend a five-match unbeaten run against the Three Lions – having last sent them packing at Euro 2012.

The other two teams in group D – Uruguay (19 June, 2000) and Costa Rica (24 June, 1700) – will not be easy opponents either for England. And let’s not talk about going further in the competition yet, and the possiblity of those dreaded penalty shoot-outs.

First though before Saturday’s big opener for England fans is the opening match of the competition. The carnival kings are sure to open the finals in style – and hopefully there will be no “star” cameo appearance such as Diana Ross’s epic fail at the 1994 opening ceremony in the US.

Hopes were high that the Americans would put on a show befitting a country that hosts the Super Bowl final and is the home of Hollywood. It was looking good until the singing diva stepped forward. Armed with the task of just kicking a ball into an open goal at 20 yards, she kicked it wide.

Noise, colour and samba music are likely to feature heavily in Thursday’s opening ceremony in Sao Paulo. We’re promised acrobatic gymnastics, martial arts and stilt walkers. But no Jennifer Lopez, who was supposed to perform the official World Cup song alongside rapper Pitbull and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte, officials stating the singer was unable to attend the show due to “production issues”.

In the end though it is the football on the pitch that really matters. Brazil will face Croatia in the opening match hoping they can provide the real entertainment and colour to the competition.

The Brazilians are favourite to win their sixth World Cup title – and few would argue against them achieving that feat. Playing in their home country will be a huge advantage, despite protests against the amount of money being spent on the tournament.

Their fans will be behind them, and look out for their secret weapon, the caxirola – Brazil’s answer to the vuvuzuela, the highly annoying plastic trumpets from South Africa last time around.

It’s been designed especially for use in stadiums – and hopefully won’t be as much of a ear-splitter. The President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff has been quoted as saying “it is an object that has the ability to do two things, to combine the image with sound and take us to our goals”.

If Brazil can produce the goals on the pitch we’ve seen in the past from stars like Pele, then football fans are in for a treat over the next four weeks.