European rivals may have to share the spoils in Manaus.
So the moment of truth arrives for England – how many of his young lions will Roy risk against Italy?
Having returned to training in the past couple of days, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who started England’s opener against France in their last major tournament and was so impressive for an hour against Ecuador, looks set to make the final squad but is unlikely to line out against the Euro 2012 finalists but Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling must have been in the thoughts of the manager over the last few weeks.
This is an England team that is infinitely better with the ball than without it in contrast to the side that lost to Italy on penalties in the Ukraine two years ago. In fact, it’s not stereotypical at all. Barkley and Sterling are just a couple of an exciting group of forwards who look a threat every time they get at the opposition’s defence.
That said, it’s not a squad that arrives in Brazil in terrific form. They’ve only won two of six matches since qualification was secured and have failed to score in three of those – against Chile, Germany and Honduras last Saturday.
It’s also a pity that Glen Johnson is the only recognised right-back in the squad as the Liverpool defender has looked out of sorts in recent games and may be perceived as a weak link by the Italians.
But Italy coach Cesare Pirandelli has problems of his own. Classy playmaker Andrea Pirlo might struggle to play 90 minutes in the humidity of Manaus and will miss the injured Riccardo Monotolivo alongside him. Pirlo’s deft Penenka knocked England out of Euro 2012 but this time Hodgson’s men will look to neutralise his threat by playing a more direct style of attacking prowess.
The Italians are also notoriously slow-starters in major tournaments, indeed they didn’t start at all in South Africa four years ago and finished bottom of their group. They do have a top-glass goalkeeper in Gigi Buffon and a solid defence while Mario Balotelli will lead their line but this certainly isn’t a game which England should view with any trepidation, though they’ve managed only three wins in their last 12 meetings with the Azzurri.
In a potentially tight group, both sides will want to get points on the board early but conditions might dictate that this will be a cagey affair with possession all-important. Pirlo will be key for Italy and, if he sees plenty of the ball, England will be in trouble.
But the longer the game goes without a score, a more youthful England might start to fancy their chances. A draw may be the best bet at 19/10 and we’re offering 5/2 against a Draw/Draw on the HT/FT.
The match kicks off at 11pm UK time on Saturday, June 14th in Arena Amazonia, Manaus.