Group D is seen as one of the tougher groups in this year’s World Cup, and it is hard to know for certain who will progress. England take on Italy in Manaus on Saturday as both teams kick off their World Cup campaigns. The two teams will be looking to get off to the best start possible as they find themselves in a tough group. England won only one of their three warm up games for the tournament, but friendly results are not too important going into a tournament. England manager Roy Hodgson will want to make sure that his team understand the system he wants them to play. Hodgson has selected a number of young players for this tournament, and he will he hope that they can make the desired impact.
Judging by the warm up games not many supporters are very optimistic ahead of the game however our friends at William Hill are offering excellent odds for England to beat Italy at 6/1 for new customers!
The Italians have always fared well in tournaments. They have won the World Cup four times, most recently in 2006 when Fabio Cannavaro lifted the trophy. Most recently, the Italians got to the final of Euro 2012 where they were beating 4-0 in the final by the winners Spain. The Italian team is one which has seen some change in recent years, but the core members of the squad remain the same. Coach Cesare Prandelli has not been shy to change his team’s tactics as he has seen fit during his spell in charge. This tactical astuteness served Italy well in Euro 2012, and will do them good in the World Cup if they are able to get the best out of their star players.
England go into the game with some injury worries. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will definitely miss the game with knee ligament damage. Danny Welbeck has been labelled a doubt. Raheem Sterling will push Welbeck for a starting place even if he recovers. Jordan Henderson is expected to start alongside Steven Gerrard in the midfield. Wayne Rooney could start in a wide left position.
Italy go into the game with a few selection dilemmas. Mario Balotelli has been paired with a smaller striker for most of his appearances for Italy, however the performances of Ciro Immobile have given Cesare Prandelli some selection headaches. Immobile scored a hat-trick in tournament warm up game against Fluminese (win not included in the win/loss stats above as not an International game). Prandelli has said that he could start with the two of them up front. The Italians are expect to line up in a diamond formation.
When the teams last met in Euro 2012 they could only be separated by the lottery of penalty kicks after finishing goalless in normal time. Despite the result, Italy dominated the game with England preferring a very defensive approach. At the time, Hodgson had just taken over as England manager and did not have much time to impart his way of playing into the team. This time round he is like to have more influence on proceedings.
The teams have only met once in the World Cup Finals where Italy beat England 2-1 in the Third-place playoff. This will be the first meeting of the two teams in the group stage of the tournament. England are yet to beat Italy in three games of tournament football.
Daniel Sturridge had a fantastic season for Liverpool last season. The England striker scored 21 goals in the Premier League. He also contributed seven assists in a season where Liverpool almost lifted the Premier League trophy. It was also a breakthrough year for Sturridge in an England shirt as he managed to assert his place as a starter in Roy Hodgson’s team.
Sturridge scored many important goals for Liverpool this season and you can get odds of 13/2 for first goalscorer or 5/2 anytime with William Hill.
Sturridge can be a genuine goal scorer for England. He has scored four goals in his 11 England caps with two of these coming in friendlies this year. Both of these goals were winners and although they came in friendlies, Sturridge should be able to show the quality for England that he has shown in the Premier League. With England’s forward line being quick and dynamic, Sturridge will be right at home alongside the likes of Welbeck, Sterling, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lallana whoever is chosen to start.
Many people would believe that Andrea Pirlo is the most important player for Italy against England, but in reality Mario Balotelli holds the key to victory. Whilst Pirlo is Italy’s schemer in his deep lying position, Balotelli is the match winner. In Euro 2012 Balotelli managed to score three goals included two in an unexpected win against Germany.
The combination of Pirlo and Balotelli worked a treat that day for the Italians. Balotelli has managed 12 goals in his 30 international appearances, which is a good record in the international domain. Balotelli did not have the greatest of campaign for Milan last season, but he still did manage 14 in 30 league games for the Rossoneri. When he is on form, he can cause a lot of problems and Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka will have to be wary of Balotelli’s threat.
It is a tough game to give a prediction on. It will be cagey affair as it is both teams’ first games of tournament. The fact that it will be played in Manaus in tropical conditions is a massive factor. The game will no doubt be played at a slow tempo as both teams try to cope with the heat. Rather than head we’re going to go with our hearts here and go for an England win!
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