Leighton Baines does not believe England's FIFA World Cup™ preparations could have gone any better, thanks not only to the acclimatisation process but the club-like bond that it has helped create. The Three Lions are now just a day away from their Group D opener against Italy in Manaus.
Roy Hodgson's side have spent time in the Algarve, Miami and Rio de Janiero to prepare for the weather of Manaus, while warm-up matches against Peru, Ecuador and Honduras have shown them first-hand the kind of opponents they could face in Brazil. Baines says the preparations have helped the Three Lions cultivate the kind of togetherness normally only seen at clubs.
"I don't think it could have gone much better to be honest," Baines said. "It's been really enjoyable, we've got some really good work in and spent some good time together. The preparation in terms of the heat and the opponents has been really good.
"For the time I've been involved with England, this is as good a group as there's been. There's a real good spirit throughout the camp and part of that is probably down to the preparation we've been doing. We've been working hard but have obviously been spending a few weeks together that has enabled us to get that kind of club feel to the international set-up."
While the preparations may have been impressive, Baines knows now they have to translate that positive work onto the field. There are few tougher opening opponents than four-time World Cup winners Italy, but England enter the match with an air of confidence despite being eliminated at UEFA EURO 2012 by Saturday's opponents.
"We're looking at [Italy] and being prepared for what they may have, but we're focusing more on what we can do," Baines told www.thefa.com. "I think they'll be doing similar things. There will be a lot of players in our squad that they'll be doing their homework on and trying to make sure they've got ideas on how to stop them.
"You know what to expect from a side like Italy, they are one of the top sides in the world, full of good footballers and they've tended to play in a certain style for a number of years, so we are preparing for that. We're looking forward to the game. We were talking before about the weather and things like that, but I don't think there's anyone who is really going to get an advantage from the weather. It's going to be more or less the same for both sides."
England may, though, have gained a small advantage from the fact they arrived in Manaus a day earlier than their Italian counterparts. Hodgson's side made the long trip over from their Rio de Janeiro base on Thursday morning, whereas Italy will arrive in the Amazon on the eve of the game.
"It was about a three-and-a-half hour flight down to Manaus," Baines said after the 1,774-mile journey. "After arriving here at the hotel, we had a bit of work on the bikes to get the journey out of our legs and then watched the [Brazil v Croatia] game.
"There was a good reception, young kids I'm sure were excited to see some of their idols, people like Stevie [Gerrard] and Wayne [Rooney]. It's great to get down here to Manaus and it puts us closer to being in match mode. It's exciting."
Baines is favourite to start at left-back for England on Saturday, playing alongside Everton team-mate Phil Jagielka. The other Evertonian in the 23-man squad is less likely to start but has certainly made an impression, with many comparing 20-year-old Ross Barkley to the Wayne Rooney that burst onto the scene at UEFA EURO 2004.
"We know plenty about Jags because he's been around longer than Ross has," Baines said. "He's unbelievable for us as a club, he's our captain and has been amazing over the years, he just gets on with his job. He's the type of player we always trust if we're on attack and it breaks down, and you see someone coming up against him, you would always back him in any situation like that. He's a terrific defender.
"Ross we're starting to see him develop and it's exciting to watch him grow. He's one of the exciting players we've got in the squad, he comes on in games, or if he starts a game, he can produce something out of nothing and get people of their seats."