Group D is just one of the groups of death this summer, boasting three former World Cup winners including recent champions Italy.
When the draw was made, England fans winced slightly at being drawn against Italy and Uruguay and there are concerns that the Three Lions may not make it out the group stage after being handed such strong opposition.Both England and Italy claimed six wins and four draws on their way to topping their respective groups and meet here in a repeat of the Euro 2012 quarter-final. Both sides have been rejuvenated in recent seasons following failures at major tournaments, and will be out to show that improvements have been made at this World Cup.
Expectation was low in England to begin with, but decreased further once they were drawn against Italy and Uruguay, with Costa Rica not being easy an easy tie either. While many will discount the latter, being in such illustrious company, any points they can take will have an affect on which of the three giants seize the two places in the last 16.
England will enjoy the freedom of no pressure and, with a young, energetic squad, may be quietly confident of being able to at least make the next round. A point for both sides would be a decent start considering the tightness of the group, but both have the players to bring on from the bench to go for the win if the game is tied as we enter the latter stages.
England are likely to make a conservative start, allowing the team to settle into a rhythm and making sure they don’t try to run before they can walk. Italy will be happy to take early possession of the ball and settle into their stride, with Cesare Prandelli probably utilising his 3-5-2 formation to retain control in the centre. Doing so will also make things difficult for lone striker Daniel Sturridge, as he comes up against a trio of Juventus centre backs in Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. The Azzurri are likely to stick with Mario Balotelli as the main man up top, but the recent impressive partnership of Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne will give Prandelli food for thought.
Andrea Pirlo remains the midfield metronome, and dictated against England two years ago. Roy Hodgson may try to stifle his creativity by asking Danny Welbeck to mark him out of the game, should the Manchester United striker be fit. However Italy concentrate much of their play in the centre and so a number of other players can maintain Italy’s passing game. Width is only likely to come from full-backs and, should Italy choose to play three at the back, England may be able to exploit the space out wide with their own talents.
Hodgson has settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation, with pace out wide which could become an issue for Italy. While Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may not be fit for the opener, Hodgson has a number of other options who can be deployed out wide and may ask the double pivot of Gerrard and Henderson to break up Italy’s play before channelling the ball out wide to counter at pace. The full-backs also push on and England are likely to play with width and on the counter to stretch Italy and create chances.
Hodgson has chosen an appropriate blend of youth and experience, and many are looking forward to the performances of the cubs of the Three Lions squad. Whether he starts or appears off the bench, Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling is likely to have an impact as a pacy, tricky forward who can get in behind the Italy backline.
Ross Barkley is another who can come off the bench and have an impact; the Everton teenager has shone in his debut season, and his mazy runs could be difficult to contain. The hope does rest, however, with Wayne Rooney; having never scored a World Cup goal before, a whole nation is expecting him to change that and finally show the world what he is capable of.
For Italy, Pirlo is the obvious key man with his precision passing and the way he dictates, but Italy’s hopes will rest on the young, exciting forward players who can hopefully prompt Italy out of their pedestrian passing style and instead attack at pace. Prandelli’s entire squad is based in Italy, with a few PSG exceptions, but Ciro Immobile will break that trend when he officially completes his move to Borussia Dortmund next season.
Regarded as fitting perfectly with the profile required by the Bundesliga giants, Immobile is going up in the world and will be out to prove his worth in Brazil. His partnership with the quick and creative Lorenzo Insigne could be well worth a look at if Prandelli pairs them up instead of using Balotelli.
England are capable of defending their way to a goalless draw, but Hodgson has promised to attack in Brazil and so we should see a more open game. Italy can be slow in the build up and so we may get a slow start, but expect the game to open up and opportunities to come.
A 0-0 scoreline at half time wouldn’t be the worst result for the Three Lions, who may prefer to unleash their young starlets later in the game once the Italians start to tire in the humidity in Manaus. Italy may do similar with Insigne and Immobile maybe later introductions, and so the game may be more open and exciting after the hour mark.
The Italians will probably dominate the ball but England shouldn't be as passive as they were at Euro 2012; Hodgson will demand exciting football to give an underwhelmed fan base something to shout about, and will at least expect quick, attacking football and the chance of goals. However neither side is the finished article just yet, and the game may just reflect that.
Prediction: England 1-1 Italy
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