Debate about complex tactics

">icon italywin14 June ~ Forget Italy being slow starters at big tournaments – coach Cesare Prandelli has promised his side will be in "sparkling" condition when they face England tonight. He has also said his fitness preparation has given them the "fuel" they need to go all the way in Brazil. All this from a team that have not beaten another nation since qualifying for the World Cup in September and didn't look the stuff of world champions in their warm-up games, especially when failing to get anything more than a 1-1 draw against Luxembourg last week.

But the Azzurri have lost only two competitive matches since Prandelli took over in 2010 and, given their pedigree, Andrea Pirlo's assertion that he thinks he can add to the World Cup medal he won in 2006 does not sound too outrageous.

It would be impossible for Italy to go into a World Cup without heated debates about the coach's decisions. After the furore when Giuseppe Rossi got narked about being left out of the squad, the latest tormentone is whether Prandelli should drop Mario Balotelli in favour of Ciro Immobile, Serie A's top scorer last season with 22 goals for Torino, who staked a claim for a place with a hat-trick in a 5-3 win over Fluminense in Italy's final warm-up game.

Prandelli is expected to stick with Balotelli and his well-documented strengths and weaknesses, at least for the opener. This is mild stuff compared to the tension created by past rows mind, such as the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in the run-up to Germany 2006 and Giovanni Trapattoni's omission of Roberto Baggio in 2002.

There are also concerns about the complexity of the tactical systems Prandelli has been trying, using two playmakers, Pirlo and Marco Verratti, after Riccardo Montolivo broke his leg in a friendly against Ireland, and a defence that was unable to keep a clean sheet against 119th-ranked Luxembourg. Losing full back Mattia De Sciglio for the first match after he took a knock in training will not help.

And there is debate about whether the poor state of the Manaus pitch will favour the less skillful English. Pundits such as Marco Tardelli, on the other hand, have argued players used to the slick surfaces of the Premier League will have more trouble adapting than the Italians, who sometimes have to work on "potato fields" in Serie A.

Nevertheless, the Italian media won't take any excuses for defeat against England and have produced an array of statistics to show why the Azzurrri are the better side. Prandelli's men have even been forewarned that the three millimeter advantage the average member of the England squad has over his Italian counterpart will not justify succumbing to the aerial threat.

It will be no surprise that Italian commentators have identified Wayne Rooney as England's danger man. But the depth of admiration there is here for the Manchester United player might be. Generosity, self-sacrifice and intelligence are not always the nouns used to describe Rooney in his homeland, but many Italians have great respect for his work rate and ability to take on many roles in addition to that of a conventional striker. Paul Virgo

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