WHEN the England squad touched down in Rio on Sunday to begin their final preparations for the 2014 World Cup, you would not have blamed Chris Neville had he pinched himself.
Blackburn Rovers’ head of sports science is no stranger to major international tournaments.
He was part of the England backroom team for the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.
But he admits a World Cup in the spiritual home of football will be something else altogether.
“I have been very fortunate to be involved in championships before but of all the places in the world you would want to have the opportunity to work in, a World Cup in Brazil is as exciting as it gets,” said Neville, who works as a conditioning coach for the Three Lions.
“I’m really looking forward to it.”
But Neville also knows a Brazilian World Cup will present new and difficult challenges.
Not only will England need to get past teams of the calibre of Italy and Uruguay to progress to the knock-out stages, they will also have to get to grips with the blistering South American heat.
All three of their Group D games will be played in higher temperatures than which Roy Hodgson’s side are accustomed to.
But it is their opening clash, against Italy on Saturday (11pm), which is set to be their most physically and psychologically draining as it will be staged in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.
The heat and humidity levels are likely to be intense in the Amazonas capital city of Manaus.
But Neville, who returned to the national team fold in May 2012 after Hodgson took over as manager of the Three Lions, is confident captain Steven Gerrard and Co will be well prepared.
“There has been a lot of planning, as you can imagine, to deal with the challenges we will face in terms of the travel, the acclimatisation and the atmosphere in Brazil,” said Neville, who acted as a masseur for Sven Goran Eriksson’s England squad at the 2006 World Cup.
“The challenges we will face are well documented but our time in Portugal, Miami and Rio should prepare us for them.
“Manaus, in particular, will be a climate the boys are not used to playing in, either in this country or in Europe.
“It is something we are cautious but not concerned about it as it something we are really working on and something we will hopefully get right.”
After having time off following the end of Rovers’ Championship campaign, Neville flew out to Portugal for a training camp where the England players wore three layers of clothing to prepare them for the testing conditions of Manaus.
A friendly at Wembley against Peru and a training camp and friendlies against Ecuador and Honduras in Miami followed before the Three Lions party arrived in Rio on Sunday.
They will train at the Urca military base, which lies at the foot of the Sugar Loaf Mountain, and stay at the five-star Royal Tulip Hotel before flying out to Manaus on Thursday ahead of their first match of the World Cup against four-time champions Italy.
“There are a number of staff involved, not just myself,” said Neville, who joined Rovers in January 2013 after following then manager Michael Appleton from Portsmouth.
“I’m part of a big backroom team who will work with the players.
“In terms of the difference between Blackburn Rovers and England, with the day to day at Rovers you get to learn a lot more about the players as you’re working with them every single day.
“Whereas as with England we get to see them less frequently so when we do get to meet them at qualifying games it’s important we get to learn as much about them as we can and as quickly as we can.
“We also have to maintain really good relationships with their clubs as it is their clubs who they play for on a regular basis.
“The information they provide us with really helps up to prepare for tournaments like this.
“Of course some players will come off the back of playing 45-game seasons while some will come off the back of 25-game seasons.
“So obviously the way we help them prepare for the World Cup will be slightly different depending on the circumstances when they first came to meet up.”
After facing Italy, England will return to Rio to prepare for their clash with Uruguay in Sao Paulo on June 19 (8pm) and their final Group D game against Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on June 24 (5pm).
Neville said: “It is going to be a real honour to be involved with the England team and I’m really looking forward to it.”