Two European teams kick-off their maiden voyage into the World Cup with a Group D pairing in Group D of the 2013 FIFA World Cup.
Highly regarded as one of the tougher groups in the tournament, the odds-on favorite for this pairing is still up in the air. Both teams fared poorly in the preliminary and friendly matches. England, as expected, experienced smooth sailing against Peru while encountered rough draws against Ecuador and Honduras. Italy, on the other hand, were held down by Ireland and Luzembourg before showing some form in prevailing over Brazilian club Fluminense.
Italy has had history of major success in international tournaments specifically in 2006 when they World the World Cup. They have won it all four times and they recently reached the top 4 of the Euro 2012 where they bowed to tournament winner Spain, 4-0. England, on the other hand have not had muck luck in international meetings.
While some label Italy as having the slight edge over the Three Lions, the major changes in the roster of the national team have put some doubt if it can continue its winning traditions. The core of the team remain the same but the meshing of the added youth and the aging veterans will be the one to watch in the duration of the World Cup. Coach Cesare Prandelli has shown flexibility by adapting to the new roster endowed to him. The tactical sagacity has worked wonders for the squad in Euro 2012 and if they can replicate that success in this tournament, they will have to rely on their star players like Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli to rise up to the challenge.
England head into the tournament with major injury concerns. Alex Oxlade_chamberlain is a no-go for the whole tournament while Danny Welbeck is doubtful to play. Even if Raheem Sterling recovers from ailment, his status will still necessitate Welbeck to a starting spot. Among its healthy player, it will have to rely on Daniel Sturridge who had a wondefsul season last year with his mother team, Liverpool when he scored 21 goals in the Premiere League. This improvement as well as his assist game has earned him the starting nod in Roy Hodgson's team.
The two teams have only met once in the World Cup Finals where Italy prevailed over England, 2-1 in the battle for Third playoff. This will mark the first time that the two teams will meet early in the group stage of the tournament, with England itching to one-up the Italians in three games of football. Their last meeting at Euro 2012 finished by a lottery of penalty kicks after both squads remained goalless after full time. During the match, Hodgson was newly installed as team mentor and it was understandable that he has had not much imprint on the team at the time.
This time around, expect both squads to come out a bit anxious and watch out for fatigue factor as the match will be played in tropical Manaus. This will force both teams to play at a slower tempo which is to the liking of England which is more of a slow it down team. Nevertheless, the previous tournament success of Italy and the perseverance of their star players may just pull them out an early advantage.