England’s friendly this evening against Peru is a mistake in the FA’s preparation for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, starting in under two weeks.
Firstly, playing three games at the end of a long season is one too many. Three matches can be justified if the manager has yet to select his final 23 before the 2 June deadline and therefore has 30 players at his disposal, but not with just 23. Players do not need to be overworked before major tournaments.
The issue of burnout was cited by the BBC as a possible reason for England’s poor performance in South Africa in 2010, and it may be that England have not learned from their mistakes. In that article, according to Liverpool’s Head of Fitness, Darren Burgess:
I do think that [burnout] can happen. It is pretty hard to play 50/60 games in the fastest league in the world and be back up in May for an end-of-season competition. To be fresh you would need to have certain periods with a break from training, or from having games.
Secondly, the location is hardly ideal, although it will add to the FA’s coffers. Whereas playing Ecuador and Honduras in Miami makes sense in order to try to replicate conditions in Brazil, particularly in Manaus, where England take on Italy, a cold Friday night at Wembley hardly compares.
England have been training wearing multiple layers, to become ‘comfortable being uncomfortable’, but they will not being doing so in this evening’s match. As a result, the friendly at Wembley fails to recreate what may prove to be a major challenge for England in Brazil.
I was clear to those responsible at The FA that I was looking for Central and South American opposition ahead of the tournament and that is exactly what has been delivered.
Whilst England do need to prepare for Uruguay and Costa Rica, playing three matches against such opposition is excessive. Are England discounting Italy from their preparation? It is, after all, the Italians who England will face in the most climatically challenging setting, Manaus.
In addition, although Hodgson was not to know this, Peru, far from the strongest opposition England could face, are also much weakened by injuries to Jefferson Farfan of Schalke and Paolo Guerrero, formerly of Bayern Munich. In addition, veteran captain Claudio Pizarro, and their key player, Fiorentina’s Juan Manuel Vargas, have not travelled with the squad as new coach Pablo Bengoechea seeks to learn about the team’s fringe players.
As a result England should win comfortably tonight, but very little will be learned about the state of the team going into the World Cup in Brazil. They would have been better off not playing this fixture at all.