Mario Balotelli has begun what might be labelled “trash talk” in the world of fight sports, declaring Italy a stronger side than England ahead of their World Cup showdown next summer.
Balotelli will likely spearhead the Italian attack when they face England in both nations’ World Cup opener on June 14.
The AC Milan forward lived in England during his days as a Manchester City player, but he clearly holds no emotional ties ahead of a game that will go a long way to determining which country advances from the group phase of the competition.
Brazil is a perfect time for me to establish myself as number one striker in the world. The World Cup is where I want to make my mark. The best players always perform on the biggest stages …
All I will say is that I believe we are a stronger team than England and historically we always perform better than them at the major competitions.
Balotelli is completely accurate in his boast that Italy perform better than England at major tournaments. The Azzurri have won four World Cups and a European Championship, dwarfing England’s sole success at international level.
Their last high-profile meeting saw Italy dump England out of Euro 2012, dominating the quarterfinal tie for 120 minutes before winning on penalties.
The following tweet said everything about how outclassed England were in that game:
England goalkeeper Joe Hart had 85 touches vs Italy, more than any other goalkeeper in the history of the Euros. #Euro2012— Football Facts (@FootballFacts1) June 24, 2012
However, England should have little to fear—from Italy or the rest of their group—in Brazil.
Who will win the opening match?
The last time the two sides met, directly after that Euro 2012 encounter, England came out on top 2-1 in a game played in Switzerland.
That result, coupled with their penalty defeat during the same summer, means England have not lost during 90 minutes against Italy in either of their last two meetings.
There is a feeling that the Three Lions have a group of death, due to the fact that Uruguay are also added to the mix. Yet Uruguay struggled to emerge from qualifying and needed a playoff—against minnows Jordan—to reach the World Cup.
Certainly former England magician Matt Le Tissier holds no concerns over the country's chances:
"England will qualify from the World Cup group of death-read my blog on http://t.co/A36TPsyXkp and see why"— Matt Le Tissier (@mattletiss7) December 7, 2013
The threats of Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo for Italy, and Uruguayan duo Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, pose obvious dangers to Roy Hodgson’s men. But the overall sum of parts in either squad is arguably no better than England.