Three-time World Champions. Perennial underachievers who cannot click as a team to save their life.
When you’re asked to predict the outcome of the England vs Italy game tonight, you could be forgiven for nonchalantly gifting the match to the Azzurri. There is no way Roy Hodgson’s men can come anywhere close to even giving them a fight, or can they?
Football works in funny ways, and for once, England have entered a World Cup with zero hope. Even the otherwise myopic English media seem to have given up on their nation before a ball has been kicked. What’s usually looked at as disdain, could very well turn out to be a boon for the the Three Lions. The likes of Gerrard and Rooney aren’t used to playing without pressure at major international tournaments and you could rest assured, they’re going to enjoy this one.
The Italians are coming on the back of an impressive last 4 years and are expected to go far this time after fluffing their lines majorly in the last edition. Cesare Prandelli has done an incredible job with the national team, guiding them to the Euro 2012 finals, Confederations Cup semi finals last year and an unbeaten qualifying campaign. They met England in the quarters at the Euros, and Andrea Pirlo unleashed a masterclass from central-midfield.
Him, De Rossi and Marchisio form a midfield trio that most teams in the world would die to have, even if they’re not at their fittest and sprightliest selves. While De Rossi takes on most of the defensive duties of the three, Pirlo could be found venturing nearby while Marchisio is the most attack minded of the trio. Montolivio’s unfortunate injury would allow the Juventus man to start in that role. England should also be wary of leaking free-kicks anywhere close to the box. Pirlo’s been in unbelievable form of late.
Roy Hodgson would be looking to pack his midfield with five men in an attempt to stifle the creativity of Pirlo and Marchisio. If the supply can be cut down to Balotelli and Lorenzo Insigne, as talented as they are, they will face problems in probing the English defence. The dictat to Cahill and Jagielka would be simple and straight, no space shall be afforded to Mario Balotelli. The guy can literally walk the ball into the goal from 25 yards out.
England would be relying heavily on Sterling and Sturridge’s pace and trickery to get them some enterprise against a mean defense. Rooney might be playing the attacking midfield role or on the wide left, if the friendlies are anything to go by. Expect him to be given the job to supply those two with incisive passes and create chances. Not his usual role, but England desperately need someone to do that job since Gerrard would be too busy marking Pirlo. In a nice twist lately, Rooney’s absence almost always spurs England on to play with more freedom and flair. Not taking anything away from him, but could be a Catch-22 situation for Hodgson, just in case Wazza gets into his usual big-tournament form, or rather the lack of it.
In all, this match probably won’t be a cracker a la Spain vs Netherlands or Brazil vs Croatia, since both teams lack the speed of movement the other four have. A solitary goal might settle the issue.