To be the best, we’re often told, you have to beat the best. If that is true, England vs Italy is the perfect start for both sides, a litmus test of sorts to see how far they have come since their last competitive match two years ago at Euro 2012, which the Azzurri won on penalties.
The first time three former winners are in the same group, with Uruguay still to play, this isn’t an easy situation for any of the teams to be in. Costa Rica have been widely written off, so it is a three way shootout to see who can make it through.
Italy, much like the Spanish, are almost identical to their side from Euro 2012, with England, much like the Dutch, very different from the side we saw at that tournament. We’ll be hoping that’s a good omen for us going in to this match, given what the Dutch did to Spain in their ‘revenge’ fixture, but things are rarely that straight forward for we English.
At the time of writing, we’re yet to see a draw or a goalless fixture yet at this tournament. It would be somewhat fitting then, if England and Italy were to restore order and play out the nil nil draw that we know they’re capable of. Depending on selection, that may well be the outcome anyway, but we really hope not.
Hodgson is likely to go with a similar 4-2-3-1 that we have seen used in the warm up fixtures, with Gerrard and Henderson in the first midfield band, and Wayne Rooney in the number ten hole, with a slightly more free role. It isn’t the most adventurous way that England could set up of course, with a 4-3-3 also a great option if he were to change his mind last minute and go for the win.
Italy are a side with a spine full of class, despite Buffon’s injury. Pirlo, Veratti and De Rossi make up one of the finest midfield trios in the entire competition, and it will play heavily on England’s mind on how to stop them effecting the game too heavily. Hodgson though, is an experienced coach, and it has been hinted more than once that the England side have been preparing specifically for this Italy test for a long while now.
A lot of attention will be on how well Balotelli plays after an indifferent season for Milan, and several transfer links back to the Premier League this summer. Similarly, there will be a whole host of attention of Wayne Rooney too, yet to score a goal in the World Cup across two previous tournaments, his position within the England side is being doubted now more than ever before, and he’ll be wanting to prove his worth as soon, and as spectacularly, as possible.
If the rest of the games this tournament has served up so far is anything to go by, there will be plenty of focus on attacking football and a fair share of goals, which is exactly what both sides with be hoping for in their favour. However, as we said previously, it wouldn’t be unlike either Italy or England to buck the trend and start cautiously and slowly, eventually settling for a point and 0-0 draw.
Either way, join us in watching the game unfold on the BBC tonight, with coverage starting at 10.20pm, and kick-off a little later at 11pm. Enough of this neutral business though - COME ON ENGLAND!