Well, it’s coming up to eleven o’clock on a Saturday night here in England, and this is, of course, the ideal time to schedule the opening match of England’s 2014 World Cup Finals. But shush. There’s a bit of peace and quiet in the air. A combination of lowered expectations and the gradual thinning out of the more unctuous members of the England team have made the last few weeks somewhat less hysterical than they have been in recent years, and most England supporters seem pretty grounded in the reality of the fact that qualifying from a group which contains a semi-finalist from the last World Cup and the runners-up from the last European Championships is am extremely tall order indeed.
Italy may well have been in less than glorious form of late and the loss of goalkeeper Gigi “So why are you wearing that neck scarf, then?” Buffon is something of a bonus for those of a three lions persuasion, but this is a nation which, like most other major football nations, has held something of a hex over England over the years. Those amongst us looking for crumbs of comfort might choose the glorious night in 1977 when England put Italy to the sword in a match unfortunately rendered irrelevant by the fact that Italy had already qualified at England’s expense. Alternatively, we might prefer to consider the night in 1997 when Glenn Hoddle’s team fought out a glorious goalless draw in Rome to qualify for the following year’s finals, a result deemed necessary because, umm, Italy had beaten them at Wembley in their previous meeting.
Then, of course, there was the meeting between the two teams in the European Championships two years ago, which ended in a HEROIC goalless draw, before Italy won the resultant penalty shoot-out. Andrea Pirlo, who ran the centre of the pitch that evening like Marcus Antonius surveying the city of Rome from one of its surrounding hills, starts again tonight. For England, the only significant injury is that to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but we’ve known about that for weeks now, so that barely even counts as an injury any more. So, how many players will Roy Hodgson put behind the ball? How puce will Wayne Rooney’s face turn when he doesn’t get a kick of the ball for the first forty minutes of the match? This and many other questions (almost all of which will most likely have nothing has to do with football) will be answered by Ian King and Ed Carter, as well as whichever other members of the 200% team pitch up here, feeling drunk and opinionated.
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