48 years of agony. 23 men who can change the footballing fortunes of a nation which has deservedly earned the tag of ‘perennial underachievers’. England’s fearless group of young players seek to achieve what the Golden generation never could. Their first hurdle sees them take on Cesare Prandelli’s well-oiled machine in the Amazonian outpost of Manaus on Saturday night.
When the draw was made last December, Roy Hodgson had admitted than he had hoped that England avoid having to play in the jungle, a small matter of 1,777 miles from England’s training base in Rio. The tropical heat aside, the mere travelling and intolerant levels of humidity will make it more a battle of fighting the conditions than their esteemed European rivals.
But unlike previous build-ups to the World Cup, Roy Hodgson’s side are not entering the World Cup under the weight of expectations that surrounded the English side in previous tournaments. The build-up has been subdued, but despite being thrown the challenge of taking on Italy and Uruguay in Group D, the mood around the camp is relaxed and England represents a confident camp under Roy Hodgson.
The results in the warm-up friendlies may not have gone their way, but the possession based game with the interchanges between the attacking quartet of Lallana, Welbeck, Rooney and Sturridge represents a mouth-watering prospect for English supporters. Throw the likes of Sterling and Barkley into the mix and there is reason to dream for England fans. Hodgson has left no stone unturned in ensuring his side get better acclimatised to the tropical heat as they played two matches in Miami, where conditions are not so dissimilar to what they are expected to face in Manaus.
The back five of Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill and Leighton Baines choose themselves, and Jordan Henderson is expected to partner Steven Gerrard in the middle, his industry and running may just earn him the nod over Jack Wilshere.
Hodgson will have a decision to make on Raheem Sterling as the Liverpool winger has reportedly sizzled in training, but Adam Lallana and Danny Welbeck, given the Manchester United forward overcomes a thigh problem, are likely to start in the wings for the Three Lions. The toss up between Lallana and Sterling is the only big call Hodgson has to make prior to the game, with Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge expected to start up front.
The midfield is where the game would be won and lost, and England will have to stop Andrea Pirlo from calling the shots in the middle of the park as he did in the 2012 Euro quarter-finals, when Italy emerged victorious on penalties. But the build up hasn’t been a particularly pleasing one for Prandelli. Italy have failed to win any of their past seven international games, a run which has seen them being held to draws against Republic of Ireland and Luxembourg. But Ciro Immobile’s hattrick in the 5-3 win over Brazilian club Fluminese could be a platform for the Azzurri to build on as they look to find the right combination in their attack.
Prandelli has no such injury problems to worry about expect full back Mattia De Sciglio missing out due to a calf injury he sustained on Thursday. Highly rated PSG midfielder Marco Verratti has recovered from flu, but may have to settle for a spot on the bench as Prandelli is likely to go for the experienced heads of de Rossi and Marchisio.
Will little options at his disposal, Prandelli may have to switch Giorgio Chiellini to left back and partner either Leonardo Bonucci or Gabriel Paletta alongside Andrea Barzagli in the heart of Italy’s defence. And England would know that a contest between either Lallana or Sterling and Chiellini could well swing the tide in their favor. Likewise, Andrea Pirlo, if not stopped, could deal a severe blow to England’s chances of progressing from the group stages.
Then there is the small matter of a certain Wayne Rooney, who seems to be keen to make an impact at the biggest stage there is. Rooney has failed to find the net in 8 appearances in the World Cup, and would be keen to make amends on a statistic that does little justice to his talent.
The game is crucial for both teams, a loss could well put up the shutters on their World Cup campaign. That is the beauty of World Cup football – every game is a pressure-cooker scenario, and both Italy and England would look to get an early head start in the tournament with a win.
England are not the same side that submitted to Italy’s domination at the Euros in 2012, and Italy aren’t the force they used to be. This is a different England side and one that would make a few heads turn in Brazil. And above all, this is Wayne Rooney’s time to silence those who have written him off.
Possible Starting Lineups:
England: Joe Hart; Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Glen Johnson; Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard; Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney, Adam Lallana; Daniel Sturridge.
Italy: Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Gabriel Paletta, Andrea Barzagli, Matteo Darmian; Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti; Claudio Marchisio, Antonio Candreva; Mario Balotelli.
- England have only won two of their last 11 internationals against Italy (D3 L6), losing to them on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
- The one previous World Cup meeting between these two former winners came in the third place play-off in 1990; Italy won 2-1.
- England have only lost two of their last 16 World Cup games (W7 D7, including two penalty shoot-out defeats).
- Excluding shootouts, England have scored all eight World Cup penalties.
- England talisman Rooney has scored in all six competitive games since Euro 2012, however (seven goals).
- Italy have scored in each of their last 14 games at the World Cup, the longest current run. The last time they failed to score was on 3 July 1998 against France.
- Seven of Italy’s last 17 goals at the World Cup have been scored from corners (41%).
- Italy have conceded 14 goals from outside the box at the World Cup, more than any other team since 1966.
Facts compiled from Uk.eurosport.yahoo
Don’t plan any appointments on Sunday morning. Stay up late on Saturday. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this! We are going for a 1-1 draw.