England look to prove their doubters wrong this summer. They'll have to go through powerhouse Italy in their opening match. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: England v Italy

There is so much doom and gloom surrounding England’s adventures in Brazil this summer, that perhaps that is exactly what they need for once.  So often they come to a tournament with a star-laden team but fail to impress, but this summer, the whole nation seemingly is doubting their chances.  They begin their World Cup campaign in the city of Manaus against Italy.

 

The Italians themselves have plenty to prove this summer as well, after crashing out in the group stage in 2010 in a group that features Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand.  Despite their previous disappointment, the Italians are as confident as ever, to the point where they are dismissing England as a major threat and nothing more than a minor speed bump.

With only one goal in his last three tournaments for England since Euro 2004, will Wayne Rooney finally shine for England on the big stage? Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Will Wayne Rooney finally shine for England in a major tournament? Will Mario Balotelli mature and fire the Azzurri into the knockout stages? Most important of all, will Roy Hodgson finally take the leash of his team and let them play Premier League football for the national team?  We will all find out tomorrow, but in the mean time, here is our preview and predictions.

Projected Starting XI’s

England: Joe Hart; Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Glen Johnson; Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson; Adam Lallana, Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling; Daniel Sturridge

Italy: Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci; Antonio Candreva, Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio; Ciro Immobile, Mario Balotelli, Alessio Cerci

Key’s for England:

- Roy Hodgson must let his young players off the leash and express themselves.  They are all so good at club level when allowed to play their game, and they must do so for England as well.

- Exploit Italy at the back with their pace in wide areas.  Italy will always defend well, but the likes of Sterling, Barkley, Welbeck and Sturridge have the pace to give them real issues.

- Finding a way to keep Pirlo quiet for the vast majority of the match – if you let Pirlo get comfortable and dictate the match on his terms, you have zero chance of winning.

Key’s for Italy: 

- Making sure De Rossi covers Pirlo so he is able to shine.  England will be questionable in central midfield, so ensuring that Pirlo can run the show means Italy are in business.

- Ensuring that Balotelli concentrates on football and not his antics – what would a red card from him do to the match?

- Getting Immobile routinely involved in the match.  He has fantastic ability, and may fly under the radar due to the attention that Balotelli and Pirlo will garner.

Key Battles:

- Andrea Pirlo v Steven Gerrard/Jordan Henderson – The Liverpool midfield pair must prioritize in neutralizing Pirlo’s ability to dictate proceedings in midfield, it’s absolutely vital.

- Gary Cahill v Mario Balotelli – Every EPL defender knows Balotelli, but since his move to Milan he has improved quite a bit, so it’s up to Cahill to find a way to keep him frustrated.

- Wayne Rooney v Italy – This is the time that Rooney finally needs to stand up and be counted for the Three Lions.  If he can actually shine, Italy will be in trouble.

Andrea Pirlo (in yellow) must dictate the match on Italy's terms. A good peformance from him gives them that added chance of winning. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Andrea Pirlo (in yellow, center) must dictate the match on Italy’s terms. A good peformance from him gives them that added chance of winning. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Staff match predictions

Drew: 2-1 Italy.  As much as so many ant Rooney to shine, and with his ability he can, I think England are too focused on him rather than the collective.  England are likely to be too pragmatic in their approach as history shows, and that will cost them against a very good Italy side.

Young: 2-1 Italy.  England will learn a sad life lesson that Rooney was never cut out to start from the off.  His inclusion will end up preventing England from making that extra pass due to his presence and their feelings that he must always be on the ball.

 

Tags: 2014 World Cup England Italy Preview And Predictions Soccer

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