Raheem Sterling Tipped for England Start as Italy Ponder Mario Balotelli Role

Rob Blanchette@@_Rob_BFeatured ColumnistJune 11, 2014

England's Raheem Sterling speaks with his manager Roy Hodgson during a squad training session for the 2014 soccer World Cup at the Urca military base in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, June 9, 2014.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Liverpool forward Raheem Sterling is set to explode at the 2014 World Cup with England manager Roy Hodgson set to show great faith in the player by starting him in the No. 10 position.

John Cross of the Mirror writes that Hodgson used Sterling centrally behind the striker in Tuesday's training session ahead of England's opening Group D match against Italy, on Saturday.

This move saw Wayne Rooney once again misaligned and pushed out into a wide left role.

Francisco Seco/Associated Press

With Danny Welbeck now a doubt for England after being hit by injury, Cross wrote:

Sterling can play as a conventional winger, but finished the season with some strong displays through the middle for Liverpool. Hodgson is now considering employing the 19-year-old's pace and power from the start on Saturday even if Welbeck is fit to start, especially as Adam Lallana has struggled to impress in the pre-World Cup friendlies.

Hodgson admitted that he was laying the foundations for his starting XI saying, per Cross:

"These two sessions will give a chance for us to do some serious work with the players because on Thursday I will have to be aware of the fact that they have travelled and on Friday it's the day before the game."

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 09:  (L-R) Roy Hodgson, Manager of England, Luke Shaw of England, Raheem Sterling of England and James Milner of England during a training session at the Urca military base (Forte de Urca) training ground on June 9, 2014 in R
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Sterling has been the surprise package of English football in the past few months, which saw Liverpool almost claim an unlikely Premier League crown.

The 19-year-old was key in the Anfield club's run-in for the championship, scoring nine times and providing five assists, per WhoScored.com.

His inclusion in the World Cup squad was no surprise in the end, but if he displaces Rooney from his central role many will be shocked. 

But Henry Winter of The Telegraph has eulogised about Sterling's inclusion for England's first game at the tournament. The journalist said:

"People talk of Sterling being one for the future but [Brendan] Rodgers does not think that way. Sterling is for the here and now. He offers so much already. He is so versatile."

As Sterling's stock grows, that of Italy's Mario Balotelli plummets with the former Manchester City striker likely to be dropped by his country for the clash with the Three Lions.

Cross writes in the Mirror that the player could be replaced by the in-form Ciro Immobile, who was top scorer in Serie A last season.

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JUNE 04:  Steven Gerrard of England speaks with Raheem Sterling of England after he was shown a red card  during the International friendly match between England and Ecuador at Sun Life Stadium on June 4, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida
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The majority of England fans have faith in Rooney to deliver in a central role for the nation, but if Hodgson is brave he will opt for Sterling.

The Liverpool teenager is the player showing the type of electric form a manager desires to see ahead of a World Cup, whereas Rooney still seems to be struggling with his fitness.

To move Rooney out wide is not a huge leap tactically as he has played there many times for Manchester United, but the move is sure to frustrate the talisman. He is desperate to shine at a major tournament but it is questionable whether he can lead the country to glory.

Sterling deserves his chance behind his Anfield team-mate Daniel Sturridge, and this could be the start of a wonderful international partnership for England.