MANAUS, Brazil – Italy is going tropical as it heads into the jungle.
When the Azzurri face England in the World Cup's Amazonian venue of Manaus on Saturday, they will be relying on some local fruits and vegetables to help them deal with the extreme heat and humidity.
"Coconut water is the ideal supplement after matches and training sessions and pineapple and papaya also work well for their anti-inflammatory powers," team nutritionist Elisabetta Orsi said.
After Italy struggled with the heat and humidity at last year's Confederation Cup, coach Cesare Prandelli put a serious emphasis on fitness and nutrition in the buildup to this tournament.
For the first time at a World Cup or European Championship, it isn't the Italy squad's chef who decides on the menu for the players. Instead the meals are carefully selected by the team's medical staff and two nutritionists.
Chef Claudio Silvestri — who is famous in Italy after starring in a Nutella TV commercial — merely prepares the meals.
"Obviously the meals have been studied to suit the climate," Orsi wrote in an email to The Associated Press. "So there are not many sauces or condiments but rather simple recipes and above all a good use of raw vegetables to control the acidity produced by intense activity and stress. Also, fruit plays an important role for hydration and regenerating minerals."
Last year in Fortaleza, eight Italy players asked to be substituted at halftime of a stifling semifinal against Spain, which the Azzurri went on to lose in a penalty shootout.
"I told the players to choose among themselves," Prandelli said. "I've never had eight players ask to be substituted all at the same time."
That's why Prandelli had a sauna erected next to the pitch at Italy's training complex back in Florence. In the two weeks of training before departing for Brazil, players continually interrupted their work on the pitch to go ride stationary bikes inside the wooden sauna shed, then dipped their arms in ice-cold water when they came out to recover.
The shed was meant to replicate the conditions in Manaus, where the temperature often rises above 30 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit) and the humidity level regularly climbs past 90 percent. Sudden rainfalls and pesky mosquitoes are also a worry.
"The heat is going to affect everyone," center back Andrea Barzagli said Thursday. "But we've prepared well by simulating the climate that we'll have in Manaus."
And while the tropical fruits help for recovery, the Italians will not change their pre-match ritual.
"Pasta is our preferred fuel," Orsi said. "Before matches we play with the 'tricolore' (the colors of the Italian flag): pasta (white), tomato (red) and extra virgin olive oil (green)."
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