MANGARATIBA, Brazil (AP) — If there was one image that summed up Italy's win over England, perhaps it was when midfielder Raheem Sterling dropped to the pitch in the second half due to cramps and Azzurri players Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio were the first to come over and help him stretch out his legs.
Italy prepared an extensive plan to deal with the heat and humidity of the World Cup's Amazon venue of Manaus and that may have provided the difference in the Azzurri's 2-1 win.
"We prepared well in Coverciano (Italy's training base back in Florence) and you could see that," coach Cesare Prandelli said. "They had cramps midway through the second half, and that shows that our work paid off."
At Coverciano, Italy set up a makeshift sauna right next to the training pitch to replicate the conditions in Manaus. Players went in and rode stationary bikes then came out and dipped their arms in a huge bucket of ice-cold water to recuperate.
The Azzurri players were also provided with specially designed refrigerated gloves to aid recuperation after training sessions and matches in intense conditions.
"The lads were placed under extensive observation," team physican Enrico Castellacci said Sunday. "We're fortunate to have great physical trainers and we studied everything down to the most minimal details. ... We didn't leave anything to chance."
Italy's superior fitness was witnessed with the winning goal five minutes into the second half. Antonio Candreva dribbled past Leighton Baines to provide a perfect cross for Mario Balotelli to head in at the far post as defender Gary Cahill struggled to keep up with the Azzurri center forward.
The temperature was 30 degrees C (86 degrees F) and the humidity was at 61 percent for the Manaus match — not quite as severe as expected but stifling enough that Italy criticized FIFA for not allowing time outs during the game.
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