John Barnes: Tactics largely irrelevant for England – what we need is luck

The Rio Report

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Former England star John Barnes explains what England have to do to win in Brazil, saying it is less about tactics and more about tempo.

You famously scored when England beat Brazil at the Maracana in 1984. How do you win matches in South American conditions, particularly against South American teams?

There’s no formula on how to win games in the heat. It’s about how you perform on day, particularly when teams are as closely matched as England, Uruguay and Italy.

Who knows what England have to do to win against Uruguay? Obviously scoring more goals than the opposition comes into it but, ultimately, specific tactics will go out of the window. A lot depends on how Uruguay – and their star players – play on the day.

The same goes for England. When teams are of a similar level luck has a major impact. In a way it’s dangerous to change the overall set-up of a team as players need to be comfortable in their roles.

One thing that Roy Hodgson has done though is change the tempo, as we saw against Peru, and will likely see in these next friendlies.

Roy had to do that. Tempo is one thing you have to change in the humidity and heat. You can’t play that fast pressing game in those conditions, so by slowing it down but retaining a similar shape England have done the right thing.

The opener against Italy will be played in Amazonian conditions in Manaus. How should England approach this match?

England have a natural disadvantage in that our club and national sides play at a high tempo and that doesn’t work in World Cups, especially not this one with the conditions as they are. Other sides are more accustomed to the slower tempo, and in the past we haven’t always changed ours.

One team that is used to playing at a slower tempo is Italy. But they will be just as affected as England by the conditions in Manaus, which will be even fiercer than when both sides play Uruguay.

The way the draw happened means England’s focus for the opener against Italy should be to aim not to lose it: focus on defending, counter attack when you get the chance.

This will actually give England a better chance of victory as it plays to some of their strengths – there is no need to go all out to win and risk getting picked apart, and the England team is likely to create their best chances on the break anyway.

The value is in not losing, as the last match sees England play Costa Rica - and there is every chance that one of Italy or Uruguay will do us a favour. And if we win the final game comfortably, we could even top the group.

England’s group is regarded as one of the toughest, if not the toughest. Can they get out of it and, if so, how far will they go?

For me, England have as good a chance of qualifying or even winning the group as Uruguay or Italy. They are all of a similar level - remember, Uruguay have some incredible players but they only finished fifth in South American qualifying. So I see England as having every chance of getting out of the group.

If we do get out of the group, we obviously have a great chance of reaching the quarters given it would be one of Colombia, Ivory Coast, Greece or Japan in the second round. But in the quarters you are likely looking at Brazil or Spain!

Can we beat them? Yes, on our day. But as I said it will need exceptional performances, and a healthy dose of luck. But realistically the quarter finals would be a good target.

Who will win the World Cup?

I think Brazil will win it. They are one of the best teams, are the home side, know the conditions, and have improved a lot recently, as have several South American sides.

Spain for me remain the best team in the world, but do they have the same desire and drive as Brazil now they’ve won it all? Maybe not, especially as Brazil will be helped by their fans.

In general the South American teams are stronger these days, with Chile in particular impressing me. They beat England 2-0 at Wembley, and Colombia also beat Belgium away. Argentina arguably haven’t improved, but they are still a top side of course.

Uruguay are a very good side and they’re not even in South America’s top four, having had to qualify through a play-off. Bearing in mind many of the European teams aren’t so strong at the moment, it’s hard to look past South Americans in South America.

John Barnes is taking part in Racing Post’s LIVE online World Cup preview on Wednesday, June 4, from 6.30pm. Follow @soccerbase for more info on how to watch and get involved and pick up Racing Post’s impartial World Cup Betting Guide FREE with Thursday’s paper.

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