Roy Hodgson takes his merry men into a tough opening fixture against Euro 2012 runners-up, Italy. The Italy who defeated his side at Euro 2012 in a penalty shoot-out but thankfully for England, there are no such deciding tools in group games. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is probably the only doubt for England as Danny Welbeck and Wayne Rooney are fit to be called upon if required, which will almost be a certainty. This is Hodgson's second World Cup after leading Switzerland to the last 16 in USA 1994 where they were defeated by Spain. England hope to qualify out of the group in this tournament to match Hodgson's feats twenty years ago. Some enterprising young players offer exciting possibilities as the 1966 World Cup winners enter a World Cup with a native manager for the first time since 1998. However, much rests on the shoulders of Wayne Rooney who has yet to score a World Cup goal and he will be trusted to play a key role in England's attack.
Italy arrive hoping to better a wretched showing at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The defending champions were bowled out after Italy lost to Slovakia in the third and final game of the group stage. National team manager Cesare Prandelli has done much to restore Italian confidence after taking over in the wake of Italy's shock exit in 2010. Euro 2012 provided a tricky group and tough knock-out stage opponents yet Italy progressed to the final having drawn with Spain and Croatia in the group stages, beating England on penalties, and knocking Germany out 2-1 in the semi-finals. Andrea Pirlo was the key figure in Italy's victory over England two years ago and he will be setting Italy's tempo in midfield. Mattia De Sciglio is out after injuring his leg in a training session earlier in the week but Prandelli has the rest of the squad to call on for national service after Pirlo's midfield heir, Marco Verratti, recovered from flu. A run of seven international games without a win against some average to poor opposition means Italy will have to improve to avoid defeat. Italy may be slow starters but the four time World Cup winners cannot be underestimated.
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