By Sammy Lee
For the many anticipating a slow, cautious opening to the World Cup for England and Italy in the much-discussed humidity of the Amazon jungle, a careless error by Gary Neville on Wednesday will come as a breath of fresh air.
It was expected that the essence of the Three Lions’ gameplan would be to shackle Andrea Pirlo, with perhaps James Milner deployed in a midfield role, to prevent the Juventus metronome from dictating the game from the heart of midfield.
With Italy’s reputation as slow starters (they have won just one of their opening games in their last five major tournaments), the fact they have drawn more than any other country, and with a defeat far more damaging than a stalemate to start the tournament, it was hardly a recipe for all-action football.
But England coach Neville’s notes hint at a fast-paced approach to the game. Should that philosophy transpire, it will almost certainly mean a starting berth for Raheem Sterling and the prospect of a more open game with some goals.
Roy Hodgson had moved to play down the influence of Ross Barkley following an impressive showing against Ecuador last week, but he had no qualms hailing Sterling’s performances in training. The Liverpool tyro was unable to play against Honduras in the final warm-up friendly due to suspension, but it seems likely he will get the nod in Manaus and add some pacey exuberance to England attacks.
Calls for Wayne Rooney to be dropped will surely come to nothing, so either Danny Welbeck or Adam Lallana will make way for Sterling, with the Manchester United man struggling with a thigh injury.
Barkley, just 20, will surely have to make do with a place on the bench, but could make a real impact in the final 20 minutes to take the game to the Azzurri.
Italy’s line-up has looked pretty settled until recently, but injury to Riccardo Montolivo, the country’s only genuine No.10, has created issues throughout the midfield and attack regarding the balance of the team.
Mario Balotelli will be central to his nation’s hopes this summer but there have been calls for Ciro Immobile to start following an impressive season with Torino which has echoed the form of Toto Schillaci ahead of Italia 90.
More likely is that Daniele De Rossi will play at the base of the midfield for the four-time World Cup winners, with Pirlo slightly more advanced alongside Marco Verratti, with Antonio Candreva, impressive at the Confederations Cup last year, coming in on the right.
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