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Italy V England Preview: Rumble in the Jungle

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A preview for the Azzurri's first World Cup match against England.

When these two nations met in the Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev, Italy dominated proceedings but needed to come from behind in a penalty shoot-out to progress. It was fitting that Andrea Pirlo’s ‘panenka’ penalty would change the tide, after the Azzurri legend had put on a master-class.

Facing the jungle’s temperatures and humidity, and considering England’s inability to maintain possession for long stretches, Manaus could be the perfect opener for the Prandelli’s men. Even if the condition of the pitch has raised more than a few eye-brows, the Azzurri’s experience of Brazil at last year’s Confederations Cup may prove invaluable.

Both teams have developed since Kiev. England can call on the exceptional pace of Raheem Sterling, the dangerous Daniel Sturridge, and the intelligent Adam Lallana. They also have a young protégé in Ross Barkley, who plays with the freedom and expression that Wayne Rooney once did back in Euro 2004.

The Azzurri on the other hand, have promoted some crucial talent from last year’s U21 Tournament where Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne shined as Italy reached the final. The Italian and English youngsters squared up in the group stages, with Verratti controlling the pace of the game, and Insigne scoring a decisive free-kick to give the Azzurrini victory.

Roy Hodgson has also changed three of his back four since that Kiev quarter-final. He will no longer be able to count on two his defensive rocks Ashley Cole (dropped) and John Terry (retired). The only defender England have kept is Glen Johnson, who still remains their biggest liability.

Italy share similar defensive issues, as Ignazio Abate, Mattia De Sciglio and Matteo Darmian all give their opponents chances and are relatively inexperienced at international level.

De Sciglio’s late injury could in fact turn into a positive for the Azzurri, as Prandelli appears to be plugging the left back void with Giorgio Chiellini, Italy’s best defender. This would allow Gabriel Paletta or Leonardo Bonucci to fill in next to Andrea Barzagli (the reliable 2006 World Cup winner).

In Midfield, Antonio Candreva showed his running power in the Confederations Cup and so he will be called upon to provide some much needed athleticism alongside Claudio Marchisio. Riccardo Montolivo’s unfortunate injury has ruled him out whilst Antonio Cassano will likely start on the bench.

Benefitting from the aforementioned, Verratti looks set to start in an unfamiliar number 10 role. The youngster has been exceptional in the tournament build up, and with all the attention on Pirlo, Verratti may well be the key to the Italian’s success.

Up front both Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney have had their places under scrutiny ahead of Brazil 2014. Balotelli is a question of attitude, but as Prandelli testifies he has always been exemplary in an Azzurri shirt. In contrast, Rooney has an exceptional mentality. However, he sometimes wastes his energy in places on the pitch where he shouldn’t be.

If this game is to be decided by an individual moment of brilliance, then it is likely to arrive from the Azzurri’s ‘Super Mario’ or the Three Lions' ‘White Pele’.

Italy (Possible, 4-5- 1): Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci/ Paletta, Chiellini; De Rossi, Candreva, Pirlo, Marchisio, Verratti; Balotelli.

England (Possible, 4-5- 1): Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling; Lallana, Sturridge, Rooney.