MARC ILES' WORLD CUP SIDESHOW: Sorry Rickie, this is serious business

Rickie Lambert

Rickie Lambert

First published in Sport

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.

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