England, Italy set for heated encounter

Both teams are looking to avoid embarrassment after poor showings in South Africa in 2010.

England Captain Steven Gerrard looks on during a training session at the Urca Military Base in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 11 June 2014. Picture: Fifa.

SAU PAULO - England will launch their World Cup efforts in Brazil today with a tantalising Group D fixture against Italy.

English fans will argue they are the most loyal supporters in the world, and the strong British contingent travelling around Brazil for this competition will certainly make a lot of noise when their team takes on Italy at the Arena da Amazônia in Manaus today.

Italy will look to bounce back after their poor showing in South Africa in 2010, while England will hope to overcome their reputation as perennial underachievers in World Cups gone by.

England are sporting many younger players than the squad that struggled into the second round in the 2010 World Cup before being thumped 4-1 by Germany.

Daniel Sturridge looks set to play alone up front supported by a trio of Wayne Rooney and Adam Lallana and one of either Danny Welbeck or Raheem Sterling, who was sent off in a friendly against Ecuador in Miami earlier this month.

"I think it's important we keep all our men on the pitch," team captain Steven Gerrard told a news conference, in a sign Sterling will start on the bench.

Given the ferocious heat and humidity in Manaus, team manager Roy Hodgson may decide not to play veteran Frank Lampard in midfield with Gerrard. Instead, he could opt for the younger Jordan Henderson, Gerrard's team mate at Liverpool.

Ross Barkley, who was electric as a substitute in England's second Miami warm-up against Honduras, is expected to come off the bench as an impact player.

Gerrard said England's game plan was to "defend very well and make it really difficult for Italy to play through us and try and limit them to very few chances on goal and then try to be brave and bold and attack."

Italy depend heavily on 35-year-old midfielder Andrea Pirlo, who could well struggle in the oppressive conditions against younger and more energetic opponents.

"I think we're going to be fine, we're going to be able to cope," said Gerrard, predicting the pitch conditions in Manaus would be "quick and zippy".

Hodgson bristled when asked about his game plan over the last few weeks, replying that the team had been trying to play the same way for two years.

Yet he conceded that planning could only go so far.

"If you'd have said to me after I'd watched the first half of Spain against Holland that the game would end 5-1, I might have been tempted to laugh in your face. But it did end 5-1 and that's what football is," he said.

The match will kick off at midnight South African time.

The day's play will definitely be centred around two of the oldest competitors in the game, but three other matches are also lined up.

At 6pm, Columbia will take on Greece, Uruguay will meet Costa Rica at 9pm and Côte d'Ivoire will face Japan 3am.

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