England’s first training session in Qatar took place to the backdrop of a setting sun as the local call to prayer brought an end to the section open to the media.
All of Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad took to the training pitch at the Al Wakrah Sports Complex to the south of Doha, a finely-manicured surface perfected by the Football Association’s own groundsman, who arrived in the country over the weekend to prepare.
Having been greeted by several hundred fans on their arrival at their nearby hotel base the previous night, England ran out in the 12,000-seater stadium which they hope will be their training location for the next few weeks.
Midfielder James Maddison described the temperatures as giving the day “a pre-season feel” but England get down to the serious business when they play their opening game against Iran on Monday.
Training in later, cooler conditions will ease the players into the change of temperature, the mercury reaching 33 degrees two hours before the session.
From Thursday training switches to 12:30 local time and the tank tops sported by the majority of the squad will become custom.
Between sessions in the desert sun, the squad will also be able to enjoy inflatable football darts, a pool table and games consoles in their training complex.
Assistant manager Steve Holland led a lengthy team-talk before the opening session took place, Kyle Walker among the group as he trained with the rest of the team having recovered from groin surgery.
Southgate suggested he would be fit towards the latter end of the group stage so his participation here will be timely, the same with Maddison – who limped off early on having opened the scoring in Leicester’s weekend win at West Ham.
Maddison went on to reveal the meticulous preparations meant players checked into the hotel to be greeted by rooms tailored specifically to them.
He said: “The set-up we have got in our hotel is absolutely brilliant, down to the final things.
“The little touches like framed pictures of my little boy, my family and my mum and dad that they’ve done, the little things like that.”
The number 10 was more concerned with the treble 20 as he was the first member of the squad to compete against the media in the now-familiar darts tournament, which has run at Russia 2018, the home Euros last summer and during the Lionesses’ successful Women’s Euros.
Having won in Russia and at St George’s Park in 2021, Maddison gave the players an early lead here, even with a modest score of 18 from his three darts.
Reaching the semi-finals in 2018 and losing on penalties to Italy in the Euro 2020 final last year, it is the finer points of preparation which many praised for such relative success.
That includes selecting the right base, maintaining the togetherness of the squad and the environment in which they spend their time – just 24 hours since arriving in the Middle East and England appear to have once again hit the bullseye, now it needs to equate to results on the pitch.