England v Italy preview - United forward key to Three Lions’ success

England's hopes of success hinge on how well Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney plays, while Italy have their own talisman in Andrea Pirlo.

To be played on Saturday 14th June 2014 at 23:00. Venue: Arena Amazonia, Manaus.

Odds: England 9/5, Draw 2/1, Italy 9/5

Preview & injury news

Everyone will be lining up in the country to get a look at this game and no one is really sure how it’s going to turn out. When the World Cup groups were first announced and England were placed in Group D - the 'Group of Death' - no one gave them a fighting chance.

With the impressive strike force that Uruguay possess, they seemed favourites, which left Italy and Costa Rica. With the latter posing not much of a threat, the true groans were at seeing Italy’s name. Memories of England being knocked out of the European Championships two years ago came flooding back.

Andrea Pirlo showed absolute wizardry that night, playing the architect and pulling the strings. The Three Lions looked lost and the Juventus star capped a wonderful performance with a brilliant penalty, dinking it over the helpless Joe Hart.

Since both then and the groups announcement, England have had a bit of a resurgence, with manager Roy Hodgson being able to name an exciting and youthful squad. Although expectations among fans remain low, which is best for pressure purposes, confidence among the players has increased.

With this confidence boost, it seems likely that it will be between either Italy or England to go through with Uruguay, making this opening game that much more important.

Wayne Rooney came out earlier this week and said that Italy should be fearful of England, a tactic that hasn't been used by the English for some time. The Manchester United forward needs to show that same kind of fighting talk on the pitch, as he will be pivotal to the Three Lions' chances.

The England line-up is expected to be the same as what it was in two out of three warm-up games. However, there does remain a mystery in the air as to whether Hodgson will start Danny Welbeck or Raheem Sterling on the left.

Having said all this, there is no denying that Italy still remain a great side, and naturally their fans back home will believe that they can equally get something out of this game. With a strong line of Juventus players in the team, who have just won Serie A, there is definite quality England need to be wary off.

Welbeck has recovered from his niggling injury, other than that there are no fresh fitness concerns for either side.

Key stats

1) Rooney is one goal away from equalling Michael Owen’s international record and putting himself joint-fourth on the all-time list with 40 goals.

2) Gianluigi Buffon is Italy's all-time most capped player with 140 appearances at 36 years of age.

3) In 1994, Hodgson managed Switzerland and guided them out of their World Cup group.

Five players to watch

Wayne Rooney - There is so much pressure on Rooney to get his first World Cup goal - if England want to do well in this competition, then he has to score. No goals from the 28-year-old will see the Three Lions fall out the group stage.

Ciro Immobile - Sealing a move to Borussia Dortmund after finishing Serie A as top scorer, Immobile has carried on his fine form by netting a hat-trick in Italy’s last World Cup warm-up game. Immobile has it in the bag to cause England real harm.

Daniel Sturridge - This season's highest Premier League English scorer has shown that he can do it on an international level. Sturridge has the capability of getting goals out of nothing, and his spark will be much needed for England.

Andrea Pirlo - There are so many adjectives you can use to describe a 35-year-old with the capability of splitting a team in half. Pirlo has bags and bags of talent and can flip a game on its head. England need to make sure that they don’t give away any silly fouls on the edge of the box.

Steven Gerrard - Add both incentives of ending the Premier League season badly and that this is likely to be his last World Cup, captain Steven Gerrard will be giving it his all to ensure an England win. His balls over the top will play particularly dividend.

Last time they met

England 2-1 Italy - August, 2012

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