Preview

World Cup pre-game: England vs. Italy

Much will be on the line when Italy and England begin their World Cup quest Saturday evening (CBC, CBC.ca/fifaworldcup, 6 p.m. ET).

Nations renew international battle

All eyes will be on Italy’s Mario Balotelli, left, and Wayne Rooney of England when the two nations square off on Saturday. (Getty Images)

Group D: England vs. Italy

  • June 14, 6 p.m. ET
  • Live on CBC TV, streaming online at cbc.ca/fifaworldcup

What’s at stake

With respect to the other clubs, this England-Italy opening match will be for Group D supremacy, or at least for second spot, with that team also advancing. Whoever wins this match will be in a good, early position of going into the next two group matches in strong form.

England made it to the Round of 16 in South Africa in 2010, while Italian fizzled and went home after the first round. They both come to Brazil seeking to do better.

While these teams have played each other 24 times over the years, they’ve met precisely once in a World Cup. In 1990, Italy edged England 2:1 on home soil in the match for third place. So while passions for this 2014 match may well be high, there’s not much actual World Cup rivalry.

Impact player

England: Wayne Rooney. This iconic Manchester United forward scored seven goals in his six starts for England during qualifying. He’s a talisman. But Rooney still has to prove he can excel on the World Cup stage come tournament time.

Italy: Mario Balotelli. Mercurial and brilliant, Balotelli can daze, confuse and amuse with his moods and moves. At his best, he’s among the best. The trick for the Italians is to keep him focused.

What to watch for

On Saturday morning, reports surfaced that Italy's goalkeeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon will miss the match after twisting his ankle in Friday's training session. This will be a key factor, along with the oppressive heat and humidity of host city Manaus.

Several English players rode the stationary bikes in saunas to prepare themselves. Fitness and endurance will be put to the test.

England Manager Roy Hodgson puts a lot of stock into Rooney. And it’s paying off. Rooney scored a goal from the left-wing —not his normal position — in a pre-tournament game against Ecuador in very warm weather.

Italy often starts off slowly in big tournaments. But that would be costly in Brazil. The Italians need to hit the pitch against England with a laser focus on scoring goals, while staying strong in defence and in goal.

They said it

“When it was 22 degrees, the lads were losing two kilos in sweat in every training session: it’s all about trying to replicate the heat and humidity out there.” — England keeper Ben Foster told ESPN.com.

“I don’t look at England as a team that can win the World Cup. They have some good players, But they are no real rivals to Italy.” — Mario Balotelli told The Daily Mail before his team flew to Brazil.

The Big Number

40 — The humidex equivalent — based on an air temperature of 29 C — that Manaus can hit during any given afternoon in June.

Obligatory Fun Fact

Arthur Virgilio Noto, the mayor of Manaus, hopes everyone from England — an expected 7,000 fans — to “behave like a priest” in the stadium during this match. Noto had previously said English fans were not welcomed to his Amazon city.

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