England will kick off their 2014 World Cup campaign with a match against 2006 champions Italy, a rematch of the quarter-final at Euro 2012 that saw the Azzurri eliminate the Three Lions on penalties.
The Italian team is still built around the same stars, with Andrea Pirlo pulling the strings in midfield and Mario Balotelli posing as the team's biggest scoring threat. In contrast, a host of new players have found their way into England's starting XI, and they'll want to prove their worth against one of the top sides in all of football.
The big news coming out of the Italian camp is the injury concerns, with Gianluigi Buffon joining Mattia De Sciglio and Riccardo Montolivo as odds-on starters who won't be playing in the opening match, as shared by Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe:
Salvatore Sirigu will be Buffon's replacement, and while the Paris Saint-Germain stopper is an excellent option in goal, he doesn't have the experience nor the leadership qualities of the experienced Buffon.
Marco Verratti will take over much of Montolivo's responsibilities in the centre of the pitch, and with the Three Lions knowing the amount of damage Pirlo can do when he isn't closely marked, Verratti should be able to take advantage of all the attention England will be putting on Pirlo.
Matteo Darmian is expected to be the man to replace De Sciglio, with Juventus' Giorgio Chiellini filling in on the left flank. The experienced defender is most comfortable in the centre but started his career on the wing, and while he lacks the mobility to be much of an offensive threat, he's more than capable of holding his own on the defensive end.
The Three Lions have no serious injury concerns, so much of the focus is on the starting XI Roy Hodgson will elect to use. Per The Mirror's John Cross, Hodgson has decided not to take any risks out on the wing, electing to start Adam Lallana over Raheem Sterling.
Danny Welbeck will be the one taking on Darmian on the left wing, meaning Lallana will start against the big, physical Chiellini. Sterling's speed and movement make him an attractive option coming from the bench, with his fresh legs a tremendous advantage against the older, bigger Chiellini in the hellish climate of Manaus.
The pitch in Manaus was a tremendous concern in the last few days, and The Independent's Sam Wallace doesn't believe the issues with the pitch were fixed overnight:
Same end of the pitch at Arena da Amazônias in Manaus yesterday (top) & today. They must have painted the grass ... pic.twitter.com/tc0ioI6Gnr— Sam Wallace (@SamWallaceIndy) June 13, 2014
The state of the pitch slightly favours the Italians, who often use lofted balls in the back of the defence to put themselves in dangerous scoring positions. England's group of speedy wingers could be hindered with the ball not following correctly when they make their runs, but the same goes for Pirlo's distribution.
It's never a good idea to go against an Italian side with their backs against the wall. In 2006, the team was incomplete turmoil, and the Azzurri put together perhaps the greatest performance in their World Cup history.
With that said, both form and fitness are not on the Italians' side. Balotelli's season at AC Milan wasn't a success, and Claudio Marchisio took a huge step back in 2013-14.
Daniel Sturridge was phenomenal for Liverpool this season, and he leads the group of fresh internationals looking to make their mark on the highest level. The talent is there, but experience has to count for something.
The Azzurri have been here before, they've faced adversity before, and they dominated England on the ball two years ago. Don't expect a repeat performance of that match, but the final score could be similar.
Final score: Italy 1-1 England