By Kevin Kinkead
Much has been made of the conditions in Manaus, Brazil — the site of the United States' Sunday afternoon Group G showdown with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal.
It's a sweltering site, nestled in the heart of the rainforest along the Amazon River. Average high temperatures reach almost 88 degrees Fahrenheit in June, with 83-percent humidity to boot.
This is a city that lies almost directly on the Equator, so temperatures hardly fluctuate, even though June is part of the Brazilian winter.
For comparison, U.S. cities like Atlanta, New Orleans and Miami do crest the 90-degree mark during this time of the year. The humidity levels, however, hover in the mid-70s, making America's hottest towns only slightly more tolerable than Manaus.
“I think a lot of us, we play in MLS, where we go to Houston, we go to Dallas," United States midfielder Kyle Beckerman said to media in Brazil. "The Midwest is hot and steamy in the summer, the East Coast is (too). And guys that don’t play, that play in Europe, they’ve played in MLS and played in these types of temperatures. So, I’m hoping that when we get there it’ll seem familiar and seem like one of those MLS cities, and it won’t be too big of a deal.”
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This is where CONCACAF qualifying proves useful for the United States.
Trips to Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico provide a decent blueprint for playing in sweltering conditions, which the U.S. tried to emulate before leaving for Brazil.
“We are (aware of the) conditions, and we tried to prepare for that in Florida," said fullback Fabian Johnson. "I think a few days to adjust to this, and hopefully we are ready.”
On the other end, all 23 players on the Portuguese roster play their soccer in Europe. Thirteen of those players are based in Spain and Portugal, and the climate on the Iberian Peninsula during domestic league months is seemingly more suitable for soccer.
England and Italy had the first chance to play at the Arena da Amazônia, and the conditions there were predictably difficult for both European sides.
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Italy head coach Cesare Prandelli, whose team came out on top last week, felt that the atmosphere was so bad that timeouts were warranted.
"It's truly absurd that we cannot consider timeouts," Prandelli said after his team's 2-1 win. "Luckily, the referee was good enough to interrupt every now and then, but it's just absurd. If we want entertainment then we have to allow the players the opportunity to have the energy to produce that kind of performance."
Striker Mario Balotelli, who scored the game winner for the Italians, echoed the sentiments of his manager.
"It's Manaus, and the climatic conditions are extreme," Balotelli explained to media after Italy's game against England. "It was too hot. Other places are hot, but not like this. If it was like this everywhere they would have to have timeouts in all the games. Here (in Manaus), it's bad. Truly."