England have finally learnt who they will be playing in the World Cup group stages in six months time, with Italy the opponents in their opening match. It will be a tough test for Hodgson, who was knocked out of Euro 2012 by the Italians on penalties, after being outplayed during a goalless 120 minutes.
Two years later and the two countries will once again face off in front of the world’s gazing eyes. Here we look at some of the key matchups, where the match could be won or lost. A match that is set to display some of the best European footballers on the biggest of stages, who will get the better of their opponent?
Buffon v ?
He has been one of the best goalkeepers in world football for years, Gianluigi Buffon has been winning individual awards for the last 10 years, and has been right in the centre of all debates over who is the best shot stopper on the globe. Italy’s World Cup winning keeper in 2006, the Juventus star has dominated the number 1 shirt for the Azzuri for over a dozen years, with only injuries keeping him out of the national side.
Who knows who his opposite number will be in Manuas. Joe Hart is the likely answer, despite being dropped recently by Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City. His mistakes over the last 18 months have caused doubts over the keeper’s position in Brazil, with Celtic’s Fraser Forster, West Brom’s Ben Foster and Norwich keeper John Ruddy all looking to steal the number 1 shirt from the former Shrewsbury player. However, despite his recent errors, it seems that Hart will start for England, should he not make any more calamities.
Buffon is Italy’s most capped player in history, after recently making his 137th appearance for his country, 99 appearances more than Joe Hart has made for England. And whilst Hart has won the Premier League golden glove for 3 years in a row, his individual trophy cabinet is nothing compared to the Juve legend. Buffon has won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year in 2003, Best European goalkeeper 2003, 3 appearances in the UEFA Team of the Year, twice in the FIFPro World XI, and was the Ballon d’Or Runner up in 2006. A stunning goalkeeper rightly recognised for his talent, Rooney and co will do well to beat this Italian legend.
Rooney v Chiellini
The Manchester United forward has often played a deeper role in the last 18 months, but that doesn’t mean he has lost his attacking threat. A natural goal scorer, Rooney can be unstoppable when on fine form. His power, strength and precise finishing make him one of the most feared strikers in world football, and wanted by every team. The United star has lifted the Premier League five times, as well as holding the Champions League and Club World Cup trophies.
But he may come up against one of the strongest defenders in Europe, Giorgio Chiellini. The 29-year-old has become a legend at Juventus since moving from Fiorentina, helping the club win back-to-back Serie A titles. In June this year, he was placed 7th in Bloomberg’s top 50 footballers based in Europe, a list built on scientific, mathematical analysis. Chiellini is one of the toughest players to shrug off the ball, and incredibly calm in possession. Relaxed, and a step ahead of the game, he is one of the most difficult defenders to face. But can he really keep Rooney quiet? It’s a well-known fact that Rooney hasn’t scored a goal at a World Cup finals, so he will be eager as ever to break his duck.
Balotelli v Cahill
Its coming up to 12 months since Manchester City sold the Italian striker to AC Milan, but Mario Balotelli has continued to terrorise opposition defenders. One of the strongest and most powerful forward in Europe, Balotelli’s fierce, moody style of football will cause problems for Roy Hodgson’s side, as he’ll physically battle Cahill to try and force his way into a shooting position. His performance against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 2012 was one that will always be remembered by Blues faithful.
Cahill will have to be at his best to manage the fiery Italian, but it can be done. Whilst Super Mario can create a piece of magic from nothing, he can often drop his head and fall out of the game, should his service be low. If Cahill can get to the ball first, and frustrate the striker, then England will be in a great position. The Chelsea defender enjoys a physical challenge, both on the ball and in the air, and won’t back down from taking on Balotelli at his own game.
Gerrard v Pirlo
Possibly the most important area on the pitch, whoever can win the battle of the midfield will surely win the game for their side. And what better matchup to watch then two legends for their respective countries: Andrea Pirlo and Steven Gerrard.
The Italian, just 1 year older than Gerrard at 34, was ranked as the 5th best player in Europe by Bloomberg’s rankings in June, adding to his long list of personal awards that include being in the 2006 FIFPro World XI and 2012 UEFA Team of the Year. Pirlo is known for his incredible control over a football. The midfielder can spray a pass across the length of the field to incredible accuracy, whilst also score a free-kick from almost anywhere in the opposition’s half. And his penalty against England in Euro 2012 was the perfect demonstration of his precision, technical ability and composure.
In the white corner is Steven Gerrard, one of the best midfielders to lead out his nation. A similar player to Pirlo, his passing accuracy, and eye for an attacking through ball has led to Gerrard one of being the best assisters in the Premier League. Often the Man of the Match for both club and country, Stevie G always shows 100% commitment and passion. But on June 14th, he will have his work cut out to keep Pirlo quiet, a job he and Scott Parker failed to do two years ago. Brace yourself folks, we could be in for a treat with these two.