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BetVictor’s Charlie McCann runs the rule over England’s opening match

England' manager Roy Hodgson (left) speaks with his players during a training session in Rio de Janeiro. Pic: Mike Egerton/PA Wire England' manager Roy Hodgson (left) speaks with his players during a training session in Rio de Janeiro. Pic: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Thursday, June 12, 2014
3:00 PM

All your odds for England v Italy on Saturday

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The talking must stop when England begin their World Cup campaign in Manaus on Saturday against an Italian side who dumped them out of the European Championships, albeit on penalties, two years ago in Kiev in the European Championships.

The goalless draw masked a gulf in class between the nations with the Azzurri totally dominant and it is perhaps significant that John Terry, so outstanding in the Ukrainian capital, will be missing from the heart of the defence for Roy Hodgson’s side this weekend.

Neither side go into the game in great form with England drawing their last two warm up games with Ecuador and Honduras in Miami and Italy ending a run of seven games without a win by defeating Brazilian club side Fluminese 5-3 last weekend. Hodgson will have been delighted his team avoided serious injury against what can only be described as overzealous opponents although Raheem Sterling’s poor tackle and subsequent red card against Ecuador, one could argue, was the catalyst.

Italy’s coach Cesare Prandelli started with the former Pescara team-mates Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne up front in their win on Sunday and, having scored all five goals between them, there is every chance they will start against the Three Lions with former Manchester City star Mario Balotelli left on the bench. In the run up to the World Cup Prandelli did compare Immobile, who has just been signed by Borussia Dortmund to replace Bayern bound Robert Lewandowski, to Toto Schillaci who began the 1990 World Cup as fifth choice for the Azzurri and ended up a World Cup winner and the Tournament’s leading goalscorer.

My gut reaction is that Balotelli will start but he is no automatic starter going forward that’s for sure and I wouldn’t be rushing to back him at 5/1 to be first goalscorer at BetVictor. Immobile is 15/2 and that makes more appeal as does the 6/1 for Daniel Sturridge to open the scoring and the 13/5 for him to find the back of the net at any time in Manaus.

Both coaches insist their sides will attack on Saturday with Roy Hodgson suggesting his young Lions can only play one way but to do that they must keep the ball and, in the heat and humidity of the tropical rain forest, they must have more than the 37% of the possession they had when the sides met in the Euros.

Italy are 7/4 favourites but this is the squad, if not the team, held 1-1 by Luxembourg 10 days ago and if England play with no fear they can get off to a winning start. Hodgson’s side are 2/1 at BetVictor with the same price for the draw and, with Uruguay waiting in the wings, it will be difficult for the losing side to qualify for the knock out stages although Spain did lose their opening game to Switzerland four years ago before going on to lift the Trophy in South Africa.

It is well documented that no European nation has won the trophy on South American soil but a closer examination shows how near they have come. The last time the tournament was held on the continent a Diego Maradona inspired Argentina prevailed (1986) but three of the four semi-finalists were European and a very significant refereeing decision went a long way to making sure England didn’t join West Germany, France and Belgium after the “Hand of God” incident in their Quarter Final with Argentina in Mexico City.

Indeed on the last four occasions the Finals have been played in South America a European side has contested the Final and before that in 1950 the tournament was decided by a round robin between the top four countries’ winners Uruguay, runners up Brazil, Sweden and Spain.

England remain 28/1 at BetVictor to lift the trophy with Italy 25s behind favourites and hosts Brazil at 3s, Argentina 7/2, Spain 13/2 and Germany 7s. Those odds are an honest assessment of the chances of Hodgson’s side but heroes are made at World Cups. I have always thought Sturridge would be a star ever since I saw him score twice, ironically against Liverpool, in the second leg of the Youth Cup Final for Manchester City back in 2006 and his goals can fire the Three Lions out of the Group and into the knock out stages. Note we are refunding losing bets on selected markets if a penalty is scored in the England v Italy game.

“England Hopes” does not have quite the same ring as “England Expects” but a win in Manaus will have bookmakers running for cover and shortening the odds on an improbable England success. Sturridge at 5/2 to be leading England goalscorer in the tournament remains my bet of the World Cup although in the outright market I have had a nibble on the French at 25/1.

The action begins with hosts Brazil (1/3) looking to put down a marker against Croatia (11/1) on Thursday evening. If that doesn’t whet your appetite a rerun of the 2010 World Cup Final follows on Friday between holders Spain (17/20) and, arguably, the most famous footballing nation never to have won the Trophy, the Netherlands who are 17/4 to cause a shock.

It promises to be something quite special.

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