1. Atmosphere, anticipation and protest in Rio de Janeiro
“I spoke to a Brazilian yesterday. He said the national sport here is volleyball. Football is classed as a religion.”
The atmosphere in Rio has been absolutely fantastic. There have been a lot of fans arriving—lots of Colombians, Mexicans and Croatians. Generally, everyone seems to be very excited.
There was a teachers’ strike on Monday, and when there are strikes that come up, it becomes very difficult to shuttle around. But we’ve seen no trouble.
When Brazil play Croatia, everyone will be in the bars, the streets and the fan zones. And I fully expect Brazil to come out flying and start off with a victory.
2. A look at Thursday’s World Cup opener—Brazil vs. Croatia
Having not had to qualify for the tournament, Brazil played some very tough opponents that all played different styles, whether from Africa, Asia, Central America or Europe.
Although theirs is a very young side (and my favourite is Argentina—they've got Lionel Messi but also a more experienced international squad), I think it’s a perfect game for Brazil.
Croatia are very good. They like to keep the ball, and it should be a very technical game. But in terms of what they've got, if they have to make changes—or if they lose one or two players—I don’t think they have the quality to go very far. They’re almost in a transition, like some of the other European teams, where they've got some players on the top end with 70, 80 or 90 caps while trying to bring through a new generation, a younger generation, into the squad.
It's a huge game for Brazil, and obviously, you want to start the tournament by not losing.
3. A settled England camp with the Italy showdown approaching
England’s preparation has gone very well so far. Everybody seems relaxed. Roy Hodgson has been out for a walk on Copacabana; Daniel Sturridge was out on the beach. A couple of other players were taking selfies. Steven Gerrard seems to be very happy and has been doing a lot of photos throughout the camp.
We've seen England over many tournaments keeping away, without many smiles, and very, very serious.
But I think England realise their place in the world and the order. I think that they know it’s going to be very difficult to get out of the group.
I’d expect the tempo of the game against Italy to be quite flat, and I think for Hodgson, that would mean playing a workmanlike team from the start—playing people like Danny Welbeck and maybe James Milner.
I think the younger players like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley are absolutely perfect to come off the bench after 60 or 65 minutes and look to make an impact against an aging Italian team.