FFT sits down with former Italy international Pierluigi Casiraghi to discuss Italy vs England, the heat in Manaus, Rooney, Hodgson and Balotelli...
What’s your prediction for Italy vs England?
The first match is always very difficult. And especially in a group like ours, which is possibly the toughest one, losing will be very, very dangerous. Because of that, I think it’ll be a draw: 0-0. I expect that the fear of losing will dominate both teams.
Do Italy or England have any chance of actually winning the World Cup?
Italy. Historically, we play better in crucial matches. And Serie A is less demanding and also not as long. Last season, the Azzurri players played an average of 21 games less than their opponents. Especially if you play in hot weather, that will make the difference.
Do you expect them both to make it out of the group?
Our group is the most finely balanced of the lot. Much depends on whether Luis Suarez recovers from his injury: in the first matches, he won’t be in great shape and that is a clear advantage for Italy and England. I hope that Italy and England will qualify: after the Azzurri, England are my favourite team.
A lot of the focus is on the teams’ respective star strikers, Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney, both of whom are not going into the World Cup in the greatest shape. How decisive a role do you think they will play?
Mario is unpredictable, but I think that having a player like Ciro Immobile, who’s in great shape, will put a lot of pressure on him, and that is a good thing, it will make Mario play better. Rooney is a wonderful player, but he’s not 100 per cent. I think Ross Barkley could cause us a lot of trouble. The question is: will he play?
Are there any young players on either side that catch your eye and who could make a name for themselves in the opening game or during this World Cup?
For us, Marco Verratti. I put him ahead of Immobile and [Lorenzo] Insigne because of the experience he’s gained at PSG. He’s got a lot of top level experience now. For them, Barkley and [Adam] Lallana. I think that this time England has a lot of quality in attacking positions, and that has always been a problem for them in the past.
Italy always had a sort of awe for England. Does this feeling exist nowadays or is something that belongs in the past?
I think that everything ended when Fabio Capello scored in Wembley in 1973: that game was the turning point.
Do you have any good anecdotes from any of the games you played against England?
I remember the match of 1997, when we won 1-0 with a goal from [Gianfranco] Zola. I was impressed by how loud the English players sang their national anthem God save the Queen - especially Stuart Pearce – he was tremendous. It was almost like the Haka of the All Blacks.
Roy Hodgson worked as a coach in Italy for almost four years - is this an advantage for England?
I think Hodgson has two qualities that are more important than his experience at Inter and Udinese. Firstly the fact that he has already been to a World Cup with Switzerland, and second the fact he’s English. In England, it’s always difficult for a foreign coach to lead the national team. Even for the best ones. Just ask Capello.
The weather in Manaus is very humid: will that work against England more than Italy?
The weather will work against England: we’ve much more quality in midfield, we’ll keep possession of the ball, and they will have to run more than us. In Manaus, running is a big problem.
Which players that Cesare Prandelli and Roy Hodgson left at home would you have brought to Brazil?
Pepito Rossi for Italy: I coached him when I was in charge of Italy Under-21s. He’s amazing, probably the best of our forwards. But when it comes to the World Cup you cannot afford to wait for anyone: Prandelli probably judged that he was not ready and he knows what he is doing. For England, maybe [James] Milner, but Hodgson preferred quality to running skills.
In England there’s a big debate about Rooney’s best position. What’s your view?
Hodgson will not abandon his beloved 4-2-3-1. So bearing that in mind, I think the place to play him is behind the striker, flanked by two wide players.
Pierluigi Casiraghi is a commentator for Fox Sports. Interview via Libero Language Lab.