England v Italy | International Friendly | Wednesday 15th August | 21:00
With the start of the European football season coming as it does this weekend, it seems a bit ludicrous that there should be a full contingent of international friendlies this week. Then again, FIFA have never really been the most forward-thinking of organisations. Considering the proximity to both the conclusion of the Euro’s and the start of the season, managers have taken the chance to blood some new talent on the international stage. This match should prove no different, as the teams will be much changed from the ones that served up one of the duller Euro quarter-finals in recent history.
Roy Hodgson has taken the opportunity to rest a couple of his big-name players, deciding to call on those players that missed the Euros through injury or non-selection. Gerrard, Terry, Cole and Rooney will all miss the trip, while he has named six uncapped players in his squad. The likes of Cleverly, Caulker, Bertrand and Butland look set to be given their full-debuts on Wednesday night. The young Birmingham shot-stopper fared well during Team GB’s run to the quarter-finals of the Olympics and is tipped to start over Norwich’s John Ruddy. Andy Carroll will lead the line despite the continued uncertainty surrounding his future at Liverpool and he will be hoping to use this opportunity to give a timely reminder of what he is capable of.
The Italian team is likely to follow a similarly experimental path, with no fewer than eight uncapped players named by coach Cesare Prandelli. With Juventus and Napoli facing off in the Italian Super Cup in China, a move that makes as much sense as the Matrix sequels, Prandelli has had to cast his net far and wide, and his squad has a distinctively youthful look about it. Young AC Milan striker Stephan El Shawaary should get a chance to impress on the national stage but they do look a side thin on international experience. The effervescent Mario Balotelli has been ruled out due to pink-eye, just another in a long list of oddity’s in the Man City striker's short career.
The match will be played in Switzerland due to the Wembley pitch's inability to host more than a few football games in a fortnight. £800m well spent by the FA there.
BEST BET: Under 2.5 Goals 9/20
With new-look teams and a bunch of relative unknowns on the international stage, don’t expect this one to be a classic. Some may point to the recklessness of youth, but I tend to look at this the other way. England have only managed 10 goals in their last 15 matches against the Azzuri, and with Andy Carroll leading the line, that poor record looks set to continue. Double down on the under 2.5 goals to make a tidy profit.
VERDICT: Draw 9/4
While this may not follow the same pattern of their meeting at Euro 2012, in which England’s main aim was not to concede, I feel that the result will be the same. Both teams are solid defensively and won’t wish to give too much up at the back. With the raft of changes on both teams, this could be a scrappy affair, making the draw a good bet.
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