The long wait is finally over as England brace themselves for the opening World Cup match against Italy, with the Three Lions hoping to exact revenge on the Azzurri for the defeat in the Euro 2012 quarter-finals. Meanwhile, Cesare Prandelli’s side have experienced all sorts of problems in recent weeks, but their quality and experience usually prevail at these kinds of tournaments.
England haven’t even come close to repeating the 1966 success in recent years, and the best they could do is reach the quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006. After crashing out in the group stage at the 2010 World Cup, the Three Lions showed some improvement to reach the last eight at Euro 2012, before they were eliminated by none other than Italy. England now take on the Azzurri knowing that a defeat would seriously hurt their qualifying chances with Uruguay and Costa Rica likely to prove difficult opposition as well. And with their back line not far from impressive when England play attack-minded football, chances are Roy Hodgson will adopt a very cautious approach against the Azzurri. All players apart from maybe Daniel Sturridge will be asked to contribute to the defensive phase, while England will focus much of their efforts on trying to prevent one Andrea Pirlo from exerting his influence on the game. Taking also into account that Italy are far from the desired form at the moment, everything suggests we will see a very tight game in a sweltering heat in Manaus. Roy Hodgson has some doubts over the fitness of Danny Welbeck, who has picked up a groin injury, but Wayne Rooney seems to believe his Manchester United teammate will be fit to play.
Italy go into the 2014 World Cup on the back of a seven-match winless run if we do not count the triumph over Fluminense, but nobody at the national team is worried and it is not difficult to understand why. Almost every time the Azzurri struggled in the build up to a major tournament, they would go on and reach the final stages with 2006 World Cup triumph and Euro 2012 final appearance springing to mind. Italy stayed without influential midfielder Riccardo Montolivo as he suffered a broken leg against Republic of Ireland, while the 1-1 draw with Luxembourg in the final warm-up match was hardly a perfect way to end the World Cup preparations. Nevertheless, with so much quality and experience in the squad and the likes of Buffon, Pirlo, De Rossi and Balotelli ready to shine at the biggest stage yet again, Cesare Prandelli’s side are likely to enjoy a successful tournament. Italy will not have an easy job against the youthful England side, but if anyone can play result-oriented football, it is definitely the Azzurri. With only Mattia De Sciglio missing, their back line should be as strong as ever, and they certainly will not be taking too many risks going forward.
The stakes will be incredibly high when England and Italy square off in Manaus, while the difficult weather conditions and poor state of the pitch are unlikely to help either. Considering that both sides will play it cautiously as well, there seems to be a good value in betting on draw at half-time.
Verdict: Half-time Draw
Best Odds: 10/11