Italian trio on Three Lions' minds
Besides Balotelli and Pirlo, Hodgson must now also guard against Immobile
If England are afraid of Italy, they're certainly not showing it.
As the clock ticks down to their opening clash in Manaus on Sunday morning (Singapore time), players and manager alike struck a defiant note in front of the press.
England were dumped out of the European Championships by Italy in 2012, inevitably beaten on penalties after a stalemate over 120 minutes.
As this is a group game, there's no chance of a repeat performance, but the stakes are still so high.
In a group as competitive as this, defeat is not an option.
Were Italy to win their opening Group D encounter, England would face Uruguay knowing that another slip-up would end their tournament within seven days of the opening ceremony.
Two years ago, it was Andrea Pirlo who rubbed salt in England's wounds, calmly chipping his crucial penalty straight down the centre of the goal as Joe Hart lunged obligingly out of the way.
Since that day, Pirlo has won two more Serie A titles with Juventus to go with the one he'd just collected in 2012.
He will be, once again, at the heart of the Italian midfield this weekend.
"How are we going to stop Pirlo?" asked Hodgson rhetorically this week.
"What we're going to do first of all is play better this time than we did then."
Jack Wilshere was nice enough to give a rather more detailed explanation of England's game plan.
"We've seen in the last two games that our set-up was with the Italy game in mind," he told reporters.
"We played the two in midfield with one ahead and it will be that man's job to screen him.
There will be times in the game when he gets on the ball and then we have to narrow in and stop his forward balls."
Steven Gerrard has always been an industrious midfielder perfectly for such a role but, at 34 years of age, it's unlikely that his tiring legs will be able to take the strain, especially when he's been on light training after a recurrence of a groin issue.
Liverpool teammate Jordan Henderson, swift and tireless, may be given the role instead, unless Hodgson leaves it to Wayne Rooney.
Perhaps England's key concern shouldn't be Pirlo at all.
Italy, who have struggled to impress since securing qualification, were thought likely to field Mario Balotelli up front.
Instead, it's a rather less well-known striker who has the weight of public opinion behind him.
Ciro Immobile may have a surname that suggests a certain static nature in the box, but the 24-year-old has been in excellent form all season.
His 22 goals for Torino were enough to bag him the capacannoniere (the Italian version of the Golden Boot) this season and they also earned him a move to Borussia Dortmund.
Tall and energetic, Immobile is a natural born goalscorer, as he demonstrated with a hat-trick against Fluminense on Sunday.
There is a certain tradition in Italy for relatively unknown strikers to make a charge for stardom just as the World Cup begins.
In 1982, Paolo Rossi came to prominence despite having been suspended for two years and arriving in Spain woefully out of shape.
He scored twice in the final as Italy beat Germany 3-1.
Before the 1990 World Cup, Toto Schillaci had never played for the Italian senior side. He ended it as the tournament's top goalscorer.
The parallels between Immobile and Schillaci are spooky.
They are both from impoverished areas of Italy's south. They both forced their way up from Serie B, after topping the scoring charts along the way. They both played under Zdenek Zeman, the famously idiosyncratic Czech boss.
Finally, Immobile was born in 1990, the year that Schillaci became a national hero.
Hodgson would be wise to broaden his focus. Never mind focusing on Pirlo. England should ensure that they have a game plan for Immobile as well.
Our defenders can handle him but there is a certain way to play against Balotelli - you really have to show him who's boss early on. You can't switch off for a moment because he doesn't have to do anything and he's still a threat - it doesn't bother him.
- Former England defender Martin Keown on how the Three Lions can stop Mario Balotelli
'Immobile can be Azzurri's ace'
Former Golden Boot winner Salvatore "Toto" Schillaci has tipped Italy striker Ciro Immobile to emulate his heroics and be the surprise star of the World Cup in Brazil.
Schillaci came from nowhere to score six goals for Italy in the 1990 World Cup, and the former Juventus and Inter Milan striker can see the similarities between himself and Immobile, who scored a hat-trick in the Azzurri's 5-3 win over Brazilian club side Fluminense last Sunday.
"There are the right conditions for Immobile to be (coach Cesare) Prandelli's trump card," said Schillaci, 49.
"He has played and scored a lot this season, he is in excellent shape and has great enthusiasm just as I had in 1990."
"He is fast, sees the goal like few others and he does not have the spotlight on him."
Italy begin their Group D campaign against England in Manaus on Sunday morning (Singapore time), and there is a growing desire in Italy for the exciting Immobile to feature in the starting line-up even though Prandelli prefers AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli.
Immobile was in prolific form in Serie A last season, scoring 22 goals for Torino, who finished seventh in the league before obtaining a Europa League berth after sixth-placed Parma were denied a Uefa licence for financial irregularities.
The 24-year-old's form led to a big-money move to German giants Borussia Dortmund, who will no doubt view the reported £15.6 million ($32.8m) transfer fee as a bargain should he shine at the World Cup like Schillaci did.
Prandelli opened the door to Immobile by comparing him with Schillaci, but then went on to insist that playing two up front was not the right fit for a team with as many quality midfielders as Italy have.
"I made a comparison with Schillaci because in 1990, he was considered by everyone as the fifth striker, but he went on to become (the) top scorer," Prandelli said on Monday.
"That shows that you need to prepare mentally for every chance you have."
Prandelli prefers Balotelli as his starting centre forward but is also open to experiment with players and formations during matches, meaning there was still space for Immobile to make an impression.
"Could he start in place of Balotelli? There are only a few players in the team with guaranteed starting places, such as (Andrea) Pirlo and (Gianluigi) Buffon," added Schillaci.
"Immobile needs to keep his feet on the ground and not get too excited, but despite having little international experience, he can certainly make an impression."
Hodgson: No injury worries for Gerrard
Roy Hodgson allayed fitness concerns over captain Steven Gerrard ahead of the start of the World Cup.
England begin their campaign against Italy in Manaus on Sunday morning (Singapore time) and part of the build-up has been centred on fitness issues.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain injured his knee against Ecuador last week, while there were reports that Gerrard has been complaining of a tight groin.
The former has been stepping up his work on the training field over recent days and, according to Hodgson, there are no worries about the latter.
"Steven did some extra work at the end of that training session," said Hodgson.
"There's nothing wrong with him and I don't understand that story at all." - PA Sport.