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Italy’s Five Biggest Threats Against England In World Cup Opener

Focus is on Pirlo, but he isn’t the only man capable of making the difference for the Azzurri.

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The action from Group D gets underway on Saturday, and the opening round of fixtures sees Italy take on England in Manaus in what will undoubtedly be a key game for both nations.

While Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has insisted that the game will not be decisive in terms of their chances of progressing beyond the group stages, he will know the importance of getting off to a good start with Uruguay taking on Costa Rica earlier in the day.

Nevertheless, despite not being highly tipped for the tournament, the Azzurri have a number of quality players within their squad, and despite the losses of Riccardo Montolivo, Mattia De Sciglio and potentially Gianluigi Buffon who is struggling with a sprained ankle, these five players could essentially make the difference on Saturday.

 

Andrea Pirlo

The humidity in Manaus has been well documented, and ball retention will undoubtedly be key particularly in the latter stages of the game when pace and direct running down the flanks could be key for England.

Much of the focus in the build-up has been about shackling Pirlo, with the Juventus midfield maestro capable of dictating the tempo of the game and using his vision to thread balls through even the tightest of defences.

Whether or not the veteran star is man-marked, invariably he will find space and time on the ball to have an effect on the game, and coupled with his ability in dead-ball situations, he will be the focal point of everything positive from an Italian perspective.

 

Daniele De Rossi

Should Roy Hodgson find a way to keep Pirlo quiet which in turn could place too much attention on the 35-year-old, De Rossi will be the man to look out for.

The Roma star will likely be used as a deeper-lying midfielder to provide cover in front of the defence, and will perhaps also drop deeper to not only keep an eye on Wayne Rooney but to also allow the Italian centre-halves to help deal with the danger down the flanks.

However, his vision, passing ability and tenacity will also be key characteristics in this encounter, and Pirlo will have the option of using him if he can’t find a way through by himself.

 

Marco Verratti

Similarly to De Rossi, Verratti’s likely inclusion will give Italy more options in midfield to lessen the creative burden on Pirlo. Having previously been touted as Pirlo’s eventual heir in the national team, Verratti is finally being given an opportunity to shine alongside him, and it could be special to watch.

While he is still raw and needs to improve defensively, Italy will have another ball-playing midfielder in their ranks and that will help them control possession and make England do the running.

Verratti has shown at PSG just how good his passing is, and while he will be expected to make forward runs to support in attack, he will be a threat in any area of the pitch.

 

Mario Balotelli

If Italy are to do well in Brazil, then Balotelli will have to find his scoring boots and produce the kind of performances he turned in during Euro 2012.

The Milan striker is a nightmare for defences on his day, but the issue has generally been that his inconsistency and temperament have seen him fall short of being regarded as one of the best in the world.

The 23-year-old insists that by performing on this stage players can become legends, and it is time for him to sacrifice himself for the team and produce the magic required in the final third to help Italy prevail.

 

Ciro Immobile

Despite calls from some sections to play Immobile ahead of Balotelli, the 24-year-old will start on the bench and will be a welcome option for Prandelli after his hat-trick against Fluminense last week.

The soon-to-be Dortmund striker is having a summer to remember and is full of confidence, and with the Italy coach insisting that he will need his entire squad during the course of the World Cup, Immobile will likely be one of his first thoughts if Italy are chasing the game or looking to put it to bed.

Lorenzo Insigne could easily have made this list too as he is likely to be vital off the bench with his pace and trickery, and the former Pescara duo could go on to play a significant role this summer.

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