SAO PAULO, Brazil -- The field in the Amazon city of Manaus, where England and Italy will meet in a key Group D game Saturday, is in dismal condition and it's only going to get worse.
And that's the word from the guy whose job it is to take care of the field.
"Frankly, Manaus is in bad shape," Carlos Botella, groundskeeper for the company responsible for the turf in Manaus and six other World Cup venues, told The Associated Press.
The field is patchy and dry in many places, which figures to make it play slow. That could actually work to the advantage of the U.S. team, though, which meets Portugal and the speedy Cristiano Ronaldo in Manaus on June 22.
Botella blamed the problems on access issues, rain and problems with algae when the grass was laid. Manaus is an isolated city in the middle of a rainforest, reachable primarily by airplane and boat.
"There are no roads, all the machinery and materials had to be brought by ship," Botella said. "There's no fertilizer, no seeds. Everything has been complicated."
RONALDO TAKES A BREAK
Good field or bad, Ronaldo could be sitting on the sideline when Portugal meets the U.S.
Limited by leg injuries to just part of one game over the last three weeks, Ronaldo trained for just 20 minutes Thursday, doing some exercises with his teammates before going off on his own to stretch. He then took a seat on a bench with an ice pack over his left knee, which has been diagnosed with tendinitis.
On Tuesday, Ronaldo played 65 minutes in Portugal's 5-1 exhibition win over Ireland in New Jersey.
Portugal opens its World Cup on Monday against Germany in Salvador.
U.S. REFEREE GETS ASSIGNMENT
FIFA announced Thursday that U.S. referee Mark Geiger will work Saturday's Group C opener between Columbia and Greece in Belo Horizonte. That will mark the first time an American has officiated a World Cup game since 2002.
But the assignment is even more historic because Geiger, a 39-year-old from New Jersey, will be paired with his regular assistant referees, Sean Hurd of Florida and Canadian Joe Fletcher, making Saturday's game the first in World Cup history in which two Americans have worked on the same crew.
J-LO RETURNS FOR OPENING CEREMONY
Jennifer Lopez, who earlier in the week pulled out of Thursday's opening ceremony because of unspecified "production issues," apparently resolved those issues. Because there she was with Cuban American rapper Pitbull and Brazilian singer Claudia Leitte performing the tournament anthem "We Are One" at the end of a 25-minute World Cup celebration.
And Lopez stole the show, taking the stage in a revealing green outfit that was just a slight breeze away from a wardrobe malfunction. Leitte wore a short yet more modest green uniform with the crest of the Brazilian soccer federation. Pitbull wore a yellow soccer jersey -- green, blue and yellow being the colors of the Brazilian flag and the national soccer team.
The opening ceremony, which featured a cast of 660 dancing around a massive LED "living soccer ball," celebrated two of Brazil's greatest natural treasures: nature and soccer.
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