Football

Crunch clashes

With Uruguay still to come, the Group D opener between England and Italy is one neither side can afford to lose. NEIL HUMPHREYS looks at which key battles might settle the contest.

With Uruguay still to come, the Group D opener between England and Italy is one neither side can afford to lose. NEIL HUMPHREYS looks at which key battles might settle the contest.

GARY CAHILL v MARIO BALOTELLI

With Cahill the more senior of England's centre-backs, he is likely to be given the task of removing the most painful of Italian stones from the Three Lions' paws.

At Euro 2012, Balotelli was an insufferable irritant for the opposition. If Cahill muzzles Balotelli, he may render the Italians mute.


WAYNE ROONEY v DANIELE DE ROSSI

If Rooney is shunted out to the left, he may be spared the thankless task of shackling Italy's pit bull. De Rossi sits in front of the back four and barks incessantly for 90 minutes.

Get too close and he bites. More importantly, if he does win possession, he seeks out Pirlo.

Whether it's Rooney, Adam Lallana or even Daniel Sturridge, the pit bull must be put down.


STEVEN GERRARD v ANDREA PIRLO

Carlo Ancelotti transformed Pirlo. Brendan Rodgers rebranded Gerrard. They both became the same player. Older, slower and running on a reduced lung capacity, both men rely on their GPS and muscle memory to get the ball to its destination. They may not be facing each other (Jordan Henderson might do the Italian job on Pirlo), but the end goal remains the same. Starve them or they'll serve their attacking teammates a banquet.


ROY HODGSON v CESARE PRANDELLI

One wants to adapt, but lacks the personnel. The other has the personnel, but struggles to shake off old habits. If Hodgson focuses on his side's creative attributes rather than the Italians', England might dare to dream. But if Prandelli plays his trump card in Ciro Immobile and the striker's Cinderella story echoes that of Salvatore Schillaci in 1990, Italy could progress with an unfancied squad again.

World Cup