2006 World Cup-winning captain Fabio Cannavaro is confident that Italy will defeat England in their opening Group D game on Saturday but remains wary of the threat posed by Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney.
The two teams last met in a competitive match in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, with Italy coming out on top 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 stalemate after extra-time.
Speaking ahead of the match in Manaus, Cannavaro was full of praise for his country’s opponents but singled out Gerrard and Rooney as the two key difference-makers in Roy Hodgson’s side.
‘The game will be very tough because I think the England team has very good players, with experience at the World Cup,’ he said.
‘They have a good coach and players like Rooney and Gerrard, who can kill you in one second, so I really expect a lot of the England team and can’t wait to watch the game.’
While both players underwhelmed at their previous two World Cup campaigns, captain Gerrard is coming off a strong season with Liverpool, in which he has thrived in a more disciplined role at the base of midfield.
Rooney’s form for the national team, however, has been criticised going into the tournament, despite a solid scoring-rate in qualifying, leading to some calls for the Manchester United striker to be dropped from the starting lineup.
Most realise his undoubted talent but, having consistently flattered to deceive on the big stage for England, this is clearly a crucial summer for the 28-year-old, as well as for Gerrard, who, at 34, has a chance to define his legacy in what’s likely his last major international tournament.
After ending their seven-game winless streak with a 5-3 victory over Brazilian club Fluminese last Sunday, Italy remain favourites to top the group, but the four-time world champions would be foolish to take either England, Uruguay or even Costa Rica for granted, in what’s set to be a closely contested battle to progress to the last 16.
Defeat for either side on Saturday would put a real dent in those hopes, but if stalwarts Gerrard and Rooney perform up to their full potential, then there could well be Azzurri tears shed after 90 minutes.