FABIO Cannavaro could hardly keep the sarcastic grin off his face when asked by ITV host Adrian Chiles whether the Italians feared fairytale striker Rickie Lambert.
“It’s a wonderful story but it will take something more,” he said before looking to Lee Dixon to add something a bit more patriotic for the English viewers.
Sadly, the Italian is right – as fantastic as Lambert’s rise to the top has been, I think it will take something a little more subtle to unlock the Azzurri defence in Manaus tonight.
I respect the hell out of Lambert, a player I interviewed at Edgeley Park about 12 years ago when he was still playing for Stockport County.
He still comes across as the kind of down-to-earth, solid, dependable type, and though he must still be rubbing his eyes in disbelief that he is preparing to wear a Liverpool shirt in the Premier League next season, to go and make a difference in a World Cup finals is surely asking too much.
He may be the kind of player to launch into the last five minutes from the bench if we need something from a set piece but Cannavaro’s awkward response spoke volumes. This isn’t a comic book.
Roy Hodgson needs to play the men who will keep the ball, draw the Italians out, and just hope he gets something special from a Daniel Sturridge or a Wayne Rooney.
Possession – as you saw on Thursday night as Brazil passed Croatia into submission – is absolutely everything in such heat; perhaps more so in the jungle tropics of Manaus.
To even think England could start playing direct football to a Lambert, or even a Danny Wellbeck, would be playing straight into the Italians’ hands.
Surely England’s main worry is at right-back, where Glen Johnson has looked as dependable as the proverbial chocolate teapot during the warm-up friendlies.
The Liverpool man surrenders the ball so often he has become a staple part of my World Cup drinking game (although with tea, of course, I’m a professional).
I also take a “gulp of tea” every time Jack Wilshere looks like he might be injured, when Wayne Rooney applauds a pass that went nowhere near him, and every time the camera turns to Roy Hodgson doing a passable impersonation of a quizzical owl.
As you can imagine, I get through quite a lot of tea bags.
Regardless of what happens tonight I just hope the officials don’t take centre stage as Japanese ref Yuichi Nishimura did in the opening game.
I’ve heard rumours that the Croatian team spray-painted rude graffiti around his changing room, only for it to disappear a minute later.