Italian job isn’t critical but keeping the ball is

Former Pompey and England defender Gary Stevens believes Raheem Sterling and Co must pass the ball well in Brazil
Former Pompey and England defender Gary Stevens believes Raheem Sterling and Co must pass the ball well in Brazil
Nathan Thompson played in a central midfield role against Scunthorpe. Picture: Joe Pepler

Rotherham v Pompey: pre-match talking points

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DEFEAT to Italy does not mean World Cup heartache for England.

But the Three Lions have been warned they will need to dramatically change their style of play to avoid an opening-game loss in Brazil on Saturday.

That’s from a man who has experienced the heat and humidity of World Cup action in Latin America.

Former Pompey and England defender Gary Stevens was part of Bobby Robson’s squad which reached the 1986 quarter-finals in Mexico.

That competition began in nightmare fashion as his side fell to defeat to Portugal.

And 10-man England then were left holding on for dear life against outsiders Morocco in their second group F clash.

But tournament top goalscorer Gary Lineker’s hat-trick against Poland saw England progress to the second round as Morocco defeated Portugal.

Those memories tell Stevens the outcome of Saturday’s game in Manaus is not critical.

He feels Roy Hodgson’s side will go down to defeat if they attempt a high-tempo approach in Brazil’s northern rainforest region, though.

Stevens said: ‘My experience in Mexico tells me it’s about the results across three group games.

‘In our first game we played to Portugal, who were virtual nobodies at the time.

‘We lost that one 1-0 and then had Bryan Robson dislocate his shoulder and Ray Wilkins sent off against Morocco.

‘We were holding on for dear life in that game to hang on to a 0-0 draw.

‘So that was two games and one point going into the Poland game.

‘But we won that well, had a result go our way and sneaked through.

‘From there we were off and running and grew in confidence.

‘It was tough out in Mexico with not only the heat and humidity, but also the altitude.

‘It becomes a different game. It’s about ball retention.

‘It’s not blood and thunder, but you play the game in little spurts.

‘England aren’t particularly comfortable keeping the ball. Italy more so.

‘If we aren’t more patient and can’t keep hold of it well we will not be going anywhere.’

Stevens’ World Cup experience in Mexico ended with his side bowing out at the quarter-final stage to eventual winners Argentina.

The man who joined Pompey in 1990 from Spurs can’t look beyond a South American winner to this year’s tournament.

Stevens said: ‘Historically it tends to go to a South American nation when it’s on their continent.

‘Brazil are the host nation and a host nation with a very talented side.

‘You certainly have to look at Argentina and you have to be talking about Uruguay as well.

‘In terms of the European nations the powerful ones are Spain and Germany.

‘Unfortunately, I’m not in a position to put England alongside them. You have to be realistic.

‘There would be nothing there for me to back up that comment.

‘So I have to go down the line that the winner will come from a South American nation.

‘I can’t see beyond that.’