This Saturday, June 14, England play their first World Cup game against Italy. The last time these teams faced was in the European Cup, when Italy won on penalties. Since that lackluster game two years ago, England’s squad has improved significantly and I believe that they have the players to beat Italy. Below are the five factors I think that will be vital to England’s potential success.
1. Danny Welbeck Roy Hodgson is an astute tactician and will analyze every possible angle that Italy will try to exploit. The biggest conundrum he faces is trying to keep Andrea Pirlo from controlling the game. When Italy last faced England, Pirlo dominated possession and cut England’s defense open frequently, so Hodgson needs to neutralize that threat. I believe that he will select Danny Welbeck if he recovers from his thigh injury. Welbeck offers a lot of energy and is very quick so he would be a constant bother for Pirlo. A lot of England fans have complained about Welbeck’s inclusion, but he is vital to England keeping Pirlo quiet.
2. Youth in reserve England have some very exciting young talent but I believe that they should start the first game on the bench. Neither Italy nor England will be used to the conditions in Manaus, which could play to England’s advantage in the second-half. If Hodgson waits to bring on some of his quicker players against an old Italian squad, then he may be able to run them ragged. The Italian squad is very experienced so it is important that Hodgson populates the starting eleven with seasoned players.
3. Rooney’s time to shine Much has been said about Rooney’s lack of goals in previous World Cups. This is his chance to finally bag a few and help England out of the Group Stage. He scored his 39th goal for England in a warm up game against Ecuador and comes to this World Cup in a lot better shape than the last two. He also finally has a prolific strike partner, Daniel Sturridge. In many International games, Rooney tries to do too much but now he has a striker who can help take some of that burden off of him.
4. Midfield pairing Roy Hodgson selected Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson as his midfield pairing against Honduras and I am certain he will do the same against Italy. Henderson’s legs offer a great addition to Gerrard’s vision, and Henderson showed a good eye for a pass against Honduras. I believe it is important these two start together because they also know each other’s playing style very well, which is important when you are facing someone like Pirlo, who will look to pull you out of position. I would like to see Jack Wilshere come on in the second-half, but it is important that Gerrard and Henderson start against Italy.
5. Mario Balotelli Rumors are circulating that Mario Balotelli may not be a guaranteed starter for the World Cup, but I believe he will start against England. At times Balotelli is a genius, but at other times, he is extremely hot-headed, I am hoping for the latter. In conditions like Manaus it is possible that if England can frustrate Italy, then Balotelli will lose his cool, which would be excellent because he is one of Italy’s best players. I am not advocating trying to get him sent-off, but when Balotelli loses his focus, he is a completely different player.
I am extremely excited about this opening game because it will set the tone for how England approach the group. I think that England can definitely beat Italy, but they have to make sure they shut down Pirlo, and do a better job of finding the back of the net than they did against Honduras.