Italy vs. England: 5 Bold Azzurri Predictions

Adam DigbyFeatured ColumnistJune 13, 2014

Italy vs. England: 5 Bold Azzurri Predictions

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    Italy take on England on Saturday in their opening match of the 2014 World Cup, with each side desperate for a positive result as they hope to emerge from a difficult Group B.

    Both were dreadfully poor in South Africa four years ago, but improved to clash in the quarter-final of Euro 2012.

    That match needed a penalty shootout to separate them, and while there will be no spot-kick drama this time around, the result could determine who progresses to the latter stages.

    Over the following pages are five predictions for the Azzurri in this game. 

Andrea Pirlo Will Still Be Decisive

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    There has been much talk about how England will defend against Andrea Pirlo, particularly after the midfielder comfortably outclassed the Three Lions the last time they met.

    Paul Scholes recently told BBC Sport that the Juventus man is the "world's greatest playmaker" and insists Roy Hodgson “cannot make the mistakes of 2012 again.”

    Even given the attention focused upon him, Pirlo will have a major influence on the match. 

Italy’s Full-Backs Will Be Key

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    Under Cesare Prandelli, the players in the full-back positions have been vital in providing width as the coach crams the side with midfielders ahead of them.

    Lacking natural wingers, the forward runs of Ignazio Abate and Mattia De Sciglio are important attacking weapons to the Azzurri.

    Injury to the latter could have a negative impact on their chances, but Matteo Darmian could be the man to step up and follow in the footsteps of other great Italy full-backs, as B/R's Paolo Bandini recently suggested

Someone Other Than Mario Balotelli Will Step Up

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    While the Milan striker seems to always be the centre of attention, a forward other than Mario Balotelli is likely to steal the spotlight in this match.

    There are a number of candidates, from Serie A’s top scorer Ciro Immobile to Torino forward Alessio Cerci, a man who could well be a major influence for Italy this summer. 

Daniele De Rossi’s Performance Will Be Vital

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    Despite the focus constantly being on Pirlo, it is Daniele De Rossi who often sets the tone for Italy’s biggest performances.

    Indeed, so important is the Roma midfielder that it is hard to imagine the Azzurri playing well without a good display from their key man

If Marco Verratti Plays, He’ll Get Booked

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    Perhaps the one certainty for Italy is Marco Verratti’s name going into the referee’s notebook.

    Since joining Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2012, the midfielder has seen no less than 24 yellow cards, according to WhoScored.com.

    Given England’s tenacity in midfield and Verratti’s desire to impress, expect him to add to that tally here.