Italy (0-0-0) vs. England (0-0-0), 6 p.m. (ET)
06/14/2014 10:05 AM
06/14/2014 10:07 AM
Manaus, Brazil (SportsNetwork.com) - It's rare for England to enter a World Cup as a potential dark horse, but a tough draw that sees the nation open the 2014 campaign against Italy at the Arena Amazonia on Saturday makes the Three Lions slight underdogs.
England brings a young squad to Brazil, which is a double-edged sword.
On one hand, there are very few players on the team with international experience on the biggest stage. But on the other, the youthful exuberance could make the inexperienced players oblivious to pressure, freeing them to express themselves on the pitch.
Wayne Rooney is one of the national team's elder statesmen, and he feels the excitement surrounding the potential in England's squad.
"I think it is exciting," the Manchester United striker said. "I think the younger players in the team bring a lot of energy and excitement and it is great to be a part of. I think, probably, it is the best squad of players I've been involved with since I've been with England. It is great to be a part of and I am looking forward to this tournament and the future with England - it certainly looks bright."
A couple of the "old guard" for England remain in the midfield where captain Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard will play together, but youth still reigns supreme with youngsters Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling ready to seize their opportunities, should they be called upon.
Italy, meanwhile, is flying under the radar ahead of this year's tournament.
Things didn't exactly go as planned for Italy in South Africa, and Italian fans will hope manager Cesare Prandelli can guide the side to a better showing than in 2010.
After winning the 2006 World Cup, the Italians fell flat four years later and failed to reach the knockout stage of the competition.
Prandelli was officially hired on May 30, 2010 and replaced Marcello Lippi after the 2010 tournament and he brought with him a more attractive, attacking style of play.
"It's now obvious that you can't get results without playing attractive football," explained the coach when he first took over.
Since becoming boss, Prandelli has led Italy to the 2012 Euro final, and a 14th consecutive spot in the World Cup.
Volatile forward Mario Balotelli will lead the line for the Italians. He is certainly a prolific scorer, but he can be prone to erratic mood swings that can turn the tide of matches if they occur at an inopportune time.
But when Balotelli is under control, he can be lethal in front of goal. He netted 13 goals for Premier League side Manchester City in 2011-12 and helped the Citizens win the league crown that season before moving to AC Milan in Serie A.
Balotelli has scored 26 goals over two seasons for AC Milan and has 29 caps and 12 goals during his international career.
Aiding Balotelli up top will be strikers Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Alessio Cerci, who all have been scoring goals in bunches. Immobile led Serie A with 22 goals and looks poised to shine on the big stage.
And unlike England, Italy is experienced in all the right spots. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is one of the few holdovers from the 2006 side, and at the age of 35, will play in his fourth World Cup, while 35-year-old midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo still makes the attack go.
Join the Discussion
The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.