Leighton Baines does not believe England’s World Cup preparations could have gone any better, thanks not only to the acclimatisation process but the club-like bond that it has helped create.
The Three Lions are just hours away from their Group D opener against Italy in the suffocating humidity of the Amazon jungle.
Roy Hodgson’s side have spent time in the Algarve, Miami and Rio de Janiero to prepare for the tough conditions of Manaus, while warm-up matches against Peru, Ecuador and Honduras have shown them first-hand the kind of opponents they could face in Brazil.
Furthermore, Baines says the preparations have helped the Three Lions cultivate the kind of togetherness normally only seen at clubs.
“I don’t think it could have gone much better to be honest,” said Baines. “It’s been really enjoyable, we’ve got some really good work in and spent some good time together.
“The preparation in terms of the heat and the opponents has been really good.
“For the time I’ve been involved with England, this is as good a group as there’s been.
“There’s a real good spirit throughout the camp and part of that is probably down to the preparation we’ve been doing.
“We’ve been working hard but have obviously been spending a few weeks together that has enabled us to get that kind of club feel to the international set-up.”
While the preparations may have been impressive, Baines knows now they have to translate that positive work onto the field.
There are few tougher opening opponents than four-time World Cup winners Italy, but England enter the match with an air of confidence just two years after exiting the European Championships to the them.
“We’re looking at Italy and being prepared for what they may have, but we’re focusing more on what we can do,” said Baines.
“I think they’ll be doing similar things. There will be a lot of players in our squad that they’ll be doing their homework on and trying to make sure they’ve got ideas on how to stop them.
“You know what to expect from a side like Italy, they are one of the top sides in the world, full of good footballers and they’ve tended to play in a certain style for a number of years, so we are preparing for that.
“We’re looking forward to the game. We were talking before about the weather and things like that, but I don’t think there’s anyone who is really going to get an advantage from it. It’s going to be the same for both sides.”
England may, though, have gained a small advantage from the fact they arrived in Manaus a day earlier than the Azzurri.
Hodgson’s side made the long trip from their Rio de Janeiro base on Thursday morning, whereas Italy only arrived in the Amazon on the eve of the game.
“It was about a three-and-a-half hour flight down to Manaus,” said Baines after the 1,774-mile journey. “After arriving here at the hotel, we had a bit of work on the bikes to get the journey out of our legs and then watched the Brazil v Croatia game.”
Baines is all-but certain to start at left-back, playing alongside Everton team-mate Phil Jagielka.