Football writer and long-suffering England fan Iain Macintosh takes on Italy guru Paolo Bandini this Expert v Expert showdown for one of the most anticipated games of the group stages...
Iain Macintosh on England: Unlike the 2010 campaign, where we didn’t even know who the goalkeeper was until an hour before the first game, England’s team is relatively settled. Roy Hodgson is not the sort of chap who makes dramatic last minute changes and so the only debate worth having is whether Danny Welbeck or Raheem Sterling will play on the flank. The smart money says Roy will leave Sterling out and pick Dat Guy.
Paolo Bandini on Italy: An injury to Mattia De Sciglio has further complicated what was already a tricky dilemma for Cesare Prandelli at full-back. Torino’s Matteo Darmian – a player with just one cap to his name – will start on one side, but the manager may now consider moving Giorgio Chiellini out from centre-back to play on the left. Prandelli has otherwise kept his cards close to his chest, refusing to divulge even the formation he will use, but an injury to Gianluigi Buffon is an unwelcome and untimely blow.
Iain Macintosh on England: There are two ways of reading England’s pre-tournament form: Either they’re unbeaten in three games, and indeed in 2014, or they merely smashed up a weak Peruvian side and then failed to beat either Ecuador or Honduras. Either way, it’s dangerous to read too much into warm-up games. The good news is that England have a coherent, consistent shape and they’re growing accustomed to each other’s company. The bad news is that they haven’t offered much more than fleeting evidence that this shape, or this company, are capable of beating a team like Italy.
Paolo Bandini on Italy: Much has been written about Italy’s disappointing performances in friendlies coming into this tournament. The Azzurri have not won an Fifa-recognised fixture since last September, drawing their last two qualifiers and failing to win any of their five friendlies against national teams since. They did beat club side Fluminense in an unofficial tune-up game, but conceded three goals along the way. Italian teams have a long history of underachieving in friendlies, however, and their record in competitive games under Prandelli is far better – with just three defeats in four years. Two of those were against Spain (and one of them on penalties), while the other came away to Brazil.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY
England’s Roy Hodgson: “I am the manager, so I take responsibility. They will be my decisions and I will have to stand or fall by those decisions.”
Italy’s Cesare Prandelli: “We have 23 players in the squad and all of them should consider themselves starters. We will choose who plays based on opponents and players’ physical and mental state.”
Iain Macintosh on England: If Daniel Sturridge can replicate his club form for his country, then England have a chance. At his best, the Liverpool striker is impetuous and inventive. He’s scaled back the selfishness that characterised his game in his younger years and yet he’s retained enough of the arrogance that every top class centre forward needs. Thank heavens that Hodgson has seen sense and brought him in from the flanks.
Paolo Bandini on Italy: The pressure is on Mario Balotelli to deliver up front for the Azzurri, especially after Ciro Immobile’s hat-trick in the win over Fluminense. The Milan striker has had an indifferent season for his club team – although 14 goals in 30 games are still not to be sniffed at – but thus far in his career has always delivered for the national team when they need him to most.
Iain Macintosh: In a game as tight as this, I wouldn’t go anywhere near match betting or scoreline betting. I’d throw some small change at a niche bet, like Sturridge having at least one shot that cannons off the woodwork. You can get 12.00 for that and, be honest, you can see it happening, can’t you?
Paolo Bandini: I like over 2.5 goals at 2.67. Although both teams will be anxious not to lose their opening game, neither looks especially robust at the back right now and each could reason that attack is the best form of defence. A horrible pitch in Manaus also increases the possibility of mistakes on both sides.
Iain Macintosh: A grim, but gutsy goalless draw. And that will do fine for both teams. Available at 6.10.
Paolo Bandini: Italy 2-2 England. Available at 20.00.
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