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England set to start World Cup in dust bowl

ESPN staff
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Head groundsman Carlos Botella says the pitch is "in bad shape" © Getty Images
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England are set to open their World Cup campaign on a damaged pitch which appears to have the potential to wreck their Group D contest against Italy as a spectacle.

Manager Roy Hodgson will send a member of his backroom staff to inspect the visibly dry, balding surface at the Arena Amazonia before their match on Saturday.

Even the head groundsman has admitted it is in poor condition and with England having worked on retaining the ball, that is unlikely to impress Steven Gerrard and his team .

"Frankly, it is in bad shape," said groundsman Carlos Botella. "We've started to implement an emergency plan to try to save the field and improve it as much as possible, but I don't think it'll be in good condition by the weekend.

"The maintenance has been complicated in Manaus. There're no roads, all the machinery and materials had to be brought by ship. There's no fertiliser, no seeds. Everything has been complicated."

Manaus has been in the headlines since it was selected as a World Cup host city, attracting criticism initially in Brazil because of its distance from the country's other major venues. Before the World Cup draw last year, Hodgson upset local officials with remarks about it being "the place ideally to avoid" because of the humid and steamy weather.

Botella blamed recent rain and problems with algae when the grass was laid for the state of the surface. The north-west Brazil city is in the heart of the world's biggest rainforest and reachable only by plane or boat.

Measures to improve the dry, patchy surface were in full swing on Wednesday, with extra fertiliser being used. However, FIFA have already issued a statement saying its experts are satisfied that the Manaus pitch will be ready for training and matches and that "mitigation procedures" have been in place for three months.

That will be of little consolation to England after the training notes of coach Gary Neville were showed the team have been working on a passing approach rather than getting the ball forward quickly.

When the ball goes into control zone -- team must make at least three passes before hitting the CF [centre forward]," the notes, captured by a photographer, said. "Once the ball is played into the end zone - two MFs [midfielders] try to get in and support for a three v two."

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