World Cup: Ability to keep ball in the heat is key for England - Cooper

WHEN Terry Cooper sits in front of the television at his home in the Canary Islands to watch England do battle this evening – cool drink close to hand – expect his sympathies to be with Leighton Baines.

Terry Cooper

England will not just be taking on Italy in Manaus tonight, but another persistent opponent that you can not mark, shrug off or do a tactical assessment on.

The name of the opposition? Humidity, which will be steaming as opposed to merely sultry in the middle of the Amazon basin.

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The legendary former Leeds left-back famously did his World Cup bit for queen and country amid intolerable temperatures and strength-sapping humidity not too far away in Mexico in 1970.

Despite the raging heat, he impressed a global icon sufficiently enough to be labelled world-class. That authority being Pele.

England’s four games were played at altitude in sub-tropical conditions – three in Guadalajara, around 5,200 feet above sea level and the fateful quarter-final against West Germany in Leon, a mere 5,905 feet above sea level.

That may not be such an issue in Manaus, but intense humidity in a region essentially made up of tropical rainforest definitely is.

Cooper had his fill of hot and sticky conditions, particularly in the group game with Brazil, switched to midday to accommodate TV – providing conclusively that mad dogs and Englishman truly do go out in the mid-day sun.

TV also had their say in changing tonight’s kick-off time to 9pm local time and while the temperature will be slightly cooler than the day norm of 30 degrees, there will not be much let-up in the 80 per cent humidity.

If Cooper has one lasting piece of advice based on his experiences of World Cup in the sub-tropics, it is not to chase things and let the ball do the work, with possession nine-tenths of the law.

Cooper told The Yorkshire Post: “The key for us is to retain the ball when we get it.

“I used to like flying up and down the wing, but there was no chance in Mexico as once you got up there, it took you longer to get back.

“In every game, we lost between seven and 10 pounds in weight, just in fluid, even though we supposedly had these special airtex shirts. It was just red-hot and you thought: ‘Jesus Christ!’

“I remember playing Brazil in Guadalajara at 12, which was crazy and for television, even then.

“Now it certainly is all for the TV, but what can you do? But I will be sat there with a can of lager like everyone else and looking forward to watching England.

“It’s going to be walking pace until the last third then it might quicken up.

“Unless there’s a quick 100 per cent forward pass on, you have to keep it. Back in 1970, we had really good experienced players who could look after the ball.”

Cooper, one of five England ever-presents along with Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Alan Mullery and Martin Peters, added: “The thing to do is go out and enjoy it. Alf Ramsey used to say to me: ‘Just go out and play like you do at Leeds.’ I used to say: ‘It’s bloody difficult in this heat!’”

The jury is out as to how England will do in their first tournament in the Americas since 1970, but Cooper feels they can prosper if they successfully harness the coltish talents of the likes of Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley, as well as that of strikers such as Daniel Sturridge, and choose their moment to strike.

He said: “I don’t think there will be a lot of counter-attacking as players won’t have the legs. What we need is Sterling, Barkley and Sturridge in good possession around the box as they have the individual ability to go by people.

“When you have players who go by people, it causes opposing teams big problems and pulls them all over the place. That’s why we were so good at Leeds.

“Because Roy has introduced three or four younger players who seem to have a bit of flair about them, we seem to have a decent blend.

“Sterling has come off a really good season as has Barkley – both are exciting. For me, if you are good enough, age shouldn’t come into it and you play.

“To win a World Cup, you must have flair. England cannot win it or go far without it as you need someone to unlock the door in the last third.

“Sturridge, Sterling and Barkley are individual talents. They might frustrate you at times, but are players capable of going by two people and sticking a goal in.”

“The tournament will obviously favour South American teams as they are used to playing in these conditions and acclimatised. But if we can retain the ball and get into the last third, we have lads who can do individual things.”