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Familiarity Can Be Both Friend Or Foe For England Against Italy In Manaus

Thursday 12th June 2014
Our Italian football correspondent Harry De Cosemo takes a look at the opening game for England in Brazil and the problems that the team will be facing.
At Elland Road, Leeds, on the 27th March 2002, Vincenzo Montella steps up. In an international friendly match, just under two months away from the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, England face Italy. It's 1-1 and the Roma striker is facing Nigel Martyn, on his home ground, with a penalty in the final minute. He scored. The Azzurri won the last meeting between the nations for 10 years.

It wasn't until Kiev, in Euro 2012, when they locked horns again. History repeated itself, the game was defined by a penalty, in a quarter final shoot out. With one sweep of his magical right boot, the incomparable and supremely confident Andrea Pirlo lifted the ball deftly. It slowly moved towards the goal, where a giant whole left by the diving Joe Hart was gaping. The net bustled, slightly. As England flew home and Italy progressed, Pirlo was the talk of the town, how could he do that in a quarter final of the European Championships? What made him think of that? Simply put, it was the personification of the marvelous Juventus play-maker.

A couple of months later, this time in Geneva, they met again. A 2-1 victory for England was too little, too late, but it showed that they could take on and beat the best. Cesare Prandelli's men were comprehensively beaten in the final of the tournament by Spain, but there were positives to be taken from both sides. After a decade of never crossing swords, they had become rather familiar with each other over the two games. At the FIFA World Cup group stage draw in December 2013,=, a third meeting was scheduled in the Amazon rain-forest city of Manaus, Brazil.

It was an outcome that neither country was happy with. Drawn alongside Uruguay and Costa Rica in Group D, it was clear that wherever they played, getting out of the group would be a big ask.

However, their biggest problem will be not only the conditions, both in the remote Brazilian jungle and of the pitch itself, which has come under recent scrutiny, but also the distance they will be traveling for the game. Roy Hodgson and Prandelli are both in charge of teams based in Rio de Janeiro, 4000 kilometres away.

During the build up to the game on Saturday evening, England have been talking about the fact that, while their squad is largely different than the previous meetings two years ago, with an influx of young players being brought in, Italy remain much more of a known quantity. While the England manager, who coached Pirlo during a spell as caretaker manager at Inter in 1999, has already said that he will make no special plans for the 35 year old, who will call time on his Italy career after the World Cup, despite his obvious threat and ability to keep the ball for long periods, something that could come into play in the humid climate of Manaus.

It is true that two different approaches to squad naming for Brazil have been taken. The likes of Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana all bursting on the international scene during the qualifying campaign for England, while the experienced heads of Juventus teammates Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini joining Pirlo and co. on the plane yet again for Italy. As Hodgson works out his best team ahead of the next three games and possibly beyond, Italy are more or less ready to g, despite the disappointment of Giuseppe Rossi failing to prove his fitness and Riccardo Montolivo breaking his leg in a friendly again Republic of Ireland last month.

Growth and development has been very much part of Prandelli's big plan. The nation known as the "home of defence" for its ability to produce teams with a fantastic knack of stability at the back will yet again be strong in that area, but with the inclusions of PSG midfielder Marco Verratti, whose stereoscopic ability to read a game and pick a pass means he is the natural heir to the abdicating Pirlo's thrown and Antonio Candreva of Lazio, the Azzurri's attack of Dortmund's new signing Ciro Immobile, Alesio Cerci of former club Torino and of course the maverick marvel that is Mario Balotelli will be out in force to cause England problems.

There are many factors in deciding who wins any football match, but the potentially problematic conditions on Saturday could mean a disastrous start for Italy or England. Although these two have got to know each other rather well over recent times, experience and knowledge of themselves will be key, which Italy have that in abundance, but there could be a role for the unpredictability of England's young stars. That is the question that will help decide, which will prevail?
Harry De Cosemo
19 years old, Newcastle season ticket holder. European football enthusiast and aspiring football writer. Currently doing a Journalism degree at Teesside University. You can follow me on Twitter: @harrydecosemo

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