Saturday evening at 6pm ET/3pm PT, and the late hour of 11pm UK time, England will face Italy in what should prove to be a fascinating encounter between two giants in International soccer.
However, in recent days the upcoming match has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons as the state of the pitch in Manaus has been criticized for being substandard and not fit for purpose. As of press time, the groundsman at Arena Amazonia are constantly watering the pitch, even though the city is located in a rainforest, and the pitch has been sprayed green to make it look more attractive to the global television audience. It’s that bare!
Roy Hodgson has now spent two years with the current England squad, watching several young players mature and develop such as Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw, while more senior players like Steven Gerrard still have a lot to prove at this level.
The surge of young talent has assisted Hodgson in developing a certain style of play that is based on possession and passing. Sterling, Henderson, Barkley and Shaw are just some of these players who have been able to help Hodgson achieve this ambition as their current clubs adopt a total football philosophy. So with that in mind, can England get a result against the Azzurri?
The Italians are currently in a poor run of form, not having won a match for seven games and are an aging team in comparison to an energised England. However, it would be foolish to write-off such players as the passmaster Pirlo and De Rossi.
England will be looking to avenge being knocked out of the last European Championships in Kiev on penalties by the Italians, but then Italy, through the brilliance of Pirlo, dominated possession. This time around, England could be the team to dominate and control the match.
England’s success will lie with talents of striker Wayne Rooney. Rooney undoubtedly has the quality to score goals, sometimes wonder-goals, but the pressure has been mounting and while this is a tribute to an already successful career he desperately needs to prove his doubters wrong.
The local climate will undoubtedly play its part on the match, with the temperature markedly higher than that of Rio de Janeiro and this is something that could swing in the Italians favor.
So who is Italy’s secret weapon? Well he’s no secret and certainly not adverse to controversy, but former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, who is a proven goal scorer and a real danger inside the penalty box. Currently being linked to a return to the Premier League, he showed his frustration in the recent 1-1 draw against Luxembourg. But this frustration and energy channeled in the correct manner makes him a formidable opponent and a real threat to a slightly less experienced England back four.
Player to watch out for? England’s Leighton Baines. Arguably one of the best left-backs in the world with his overlapping runs down the channel and steely performances in defense make him the player Italy should be wary of.