World Cup Group D | Manaus | Sat 14 Jun | 11pm
A repeat of the Euro 2012 quarter-final, but much has changed…
You’d think Italy only had one player given the attentions on Andrea Pirlo – and how England stop him – in the build-up to Group D’s plum fixture. But do Roy Hodgson’s men really have so much to fear from a 35-year-old playmaker who has scored a modest 13 goals from 109 internationals to date?
Judging by the quarter-final at Euro 2012, yes. Pirlo out-passed England on his own and Italy outclassed the Three Lions, despite needing penalties to confirm it. But England are much-improved – in possession, at least – since then, while Italy, you could argue, have progressed little and come into this game having not won in seven before a 5-3 win against Brazilian club side Fluminense.
They have injury problems too, with certain starter Riccardo Montolivio ruled out of out the tournament, potential starter Giuseppe Rossi left at home on fitness grounds and defensive stalwart Andrea Barzagli struggling to make the England game. Yes, England lost Kyle Walker and Andros Townsend, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be missing for this game, but it’s doubtful any would have made the starting line-up.
Whoever plays, England will almost certainly line-up in a 4-2-3-1, while Cesare Prandelli, having preferred 4-3-1-2 (the ‘1’ being Montolivio) and occasionally 3-5-2 in the past, has recently experimented with 4-3-3 and 4-3-2-1.
One thing’s for sure: both teams will feature some exciting, young attacking talent with the potential to announce themselves to the world. And this time, the closeness on the scoreboard should reflect the action on the pitch.
What the local media say
“Italy has been decidedly unconvincing so far in the pre-World Cup matches,” says Tuttosport. “In Brazil they will need to change gear.”
The Telegraph, meanwhile, has piled the pressure on the England manager, saying “there is no ‘free pass’ for Hodgson this time around, as there was at Euro 2012… there will be no excuses should England fail to progress in Group D.”
Key battle: Jordan Henderson vs Andrea Pirlo
With Wayne Rooney likely to be more concerned with inflicting damage on Italy, it may fall to the resurgent Liverpool midfielder to be England’s ‘attack dog’ when it comes to starving Italy’s quarterback of possession. It’s a cliché, but Pirlo really does ‘make them tick’ – but only if he has the ball.
Facts and figures
- England have only won 2 of their last 11 internationals against Italy (D3 L6), losing to them on penalties in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012.
- Frank Lampard has had more shots without scoring than any other player at World Cups since 1966 (39 shots, 0 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 July 3 1998 against France.
More FFT Stats Zone facts
Both managers insists they’ll be going for the win; both will be happy with a draw. 1-1.