Roy Hodgson really did walk into it. “We’ll get what we get,” he said before the World Cup draw last week, “I’m more concerned about the venue than the opposing teams: some places in Brazil are going to be harder to play than others.
He should never have opened his mouth. For no sooner had the words left his lips than they were picked up in Fifa’s evil underground headquarters, where a thousand mathematically gifted goblins worked out a way to give England exactly what they didn’t want: a group game in the 80% humidity of Manaus.
Spare a thought for those goblins by the way, because they have been working very hard this week. As every good Englishman knows, the horrid little orcs work night and day before every tournament to ensure, either through the draw, the allocation of the referee or just by their malevolent divinity, that England can never win. A friend in Milan told me they did the same to Italy this time as well. If only we could penetrate the underground base and kill all the goblins, maybe Spain would stop winning.
In any case, whether by pure bad luck or by evil goblin army, England have been landed in the so called Group of Death. Not only do they face the toughest opponents of anyone in Uruguay, Italy and, erm, Costa Rica, but they will also play their opening game in the heart of Amazonas, in the most difficult conditions in Brazil.
This is a serious problem. It always has been for England. Since they first invented the game, the English have rarely wavered from their pious belief in running really fast and kicking really hard as a rather smashing way to win football matches. This, in the milder climates of Europe, can work now and again, provided there is a smart enough manager and a couple of blokes who really can kick it jolly hard (both of which are rarely the case). In more humid conditions, it is suicide.
Cue fears that, ten minutes into their opening game in Brazil, England’s star players will have collapsed into a useless heap on the ground. Steven Gerrard will have gone red as a lobster, Joe Hart will be having a little snooze – although to be fair he does that a lot – and Wayne Rooney will simply have melted.
Still, England’s finest have a good few weeks yet to get in shape. The more pressing issue for Roy Hodgson is the diplomatic storm that his comments about Manaus have sent careering over the Atlantic. Prior to the draw, English football’s most jovial old uncle was caught – not for the first time – letting his appealing honesty get the better of him and voicing very clearly that England would like to avoid playing in Manaus due to the heat. An entirely innocent, football related comment – but one which the Mayor of said city Arthur Virgilio took to be a careless, nay, disrespectful attack on an area “more beautiful than anywhere in the world”.
“We don’t want England to come here either”, countered Virgilio, “We would also rather have a better team, with a manager who is more polite and less careless. Hodgson is the only man on the planet who is not curious about the Amazon.”
What followed was the Hurricane Xaver of Anglo-Brazilian relations. David Cameron was forced to charter a plane to Manaus and beg, on his knees, for Virgilio to let Gerrard, Lampard and co. into his city. Rumour has it that the Mayor was not easily moved, and Cameron was forced to outsource all Britain’s pork pie factories to Manaus, in order to boost the Amazonian economy.
Well, sort of. What actually happened was that Hodgson, not for the first time in his life, offered a public apologoy and promised to invite the Mayor to England’s training camp. This may not be enough for Virgilio, though, so don’t be surprised if Hodgson is nowhere to be seen when England play Italy. He'll be building a temple in the rainforest - begging forgiveness to Mother Nature and the Fifa goblins for ever having made an innocent remark.
Kit Holden (@kitholden) is English and is currently working as an intern at Tagesspiegel-Sport. He also writes on German football for The Independent.