Having competed in three World Cup finals, I appreciate what Roy Hodgson’s men have been going through to prepare themselves physically and mentally for sport’s greatest tournament. As well as facing the world’s best footballers, they will be under a great deal of pressure knowing that the entire nation will be kicking every ball with them.
I remember feeling an enormous sense of pride at being selected for each World Cup finals and there is no greater honour than representing your country at a sport you love. The atmosphere at the World Cup is like nothing else on earth and I’m sure our current team will soak up every minute of it.
The climate in Brazil will certainly have an impact on the players and Roy Hodgson has done his best to get the team used to this by playing warm-up matches in the heat of Miami. At both Spain in 1982 and Mexico in 1986, the climate played a major role in every match and we arrived with plenty of time to acclimatise. I remember travelling to Colorado prior to the Mexico tournament to prepare for the conditions and it certainly takes some time to get used to the way the ball moves and the pace of the game.
I think the training sessions in Brazil will have been designed to test the players without tiring them before real match play. I wasn’t too happy to hear Wayne Rooney was submitting himself to extra training sessions as he could suffer from burn-out before the first match has even kicked off.
As well as physical preparation, the players will need to be in the right frame of mind before the matches kick off. It can sometimes be a difficult balancing act as the players will be mentally tired after a long season but it is important not to switch off at all as this will be one of the biggest tournaments of their lives.
The buzz of competing in the World Cup will hopefully overcome any mental tiredness and thankfully, the weight of expectation is not nearly as heavy as it has been in recent tournaments. Hopefully this will work in our favour.
Hodgson has enlisted the services of sports psychologist Dr Steve Peters and I think this will help the players prepare themselves for the mental pressure of the World Cup – particularly penalty shoot-outs. I don’t think he should be overused though, as it is down to Hodgson to man-manage the squad and motivate each player.
At the 1990 World Cup, we reached the furthest an England side has since 1966 and obviously the pressure grew with each passing round. Having said that, getting started is often the hardest part of any major tournament and that was the case for us in Italy.
We drew the first two games and snuck out of the group after narrowly beating Egypt. It was only then that we began to get into our stride and started putting in some strong performances.
I’m sure the players will be anxious to get out on the pitch against Italy. The feeling of relief after winning a game at the World Cup is unbelievable and the further the current England squad progresses, the more they will believe that this could finally be their year.
Peter Shilton won 125 caps for England and played in the team which reached the 1990 World Cup semi-finals.
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