Predict the England scores and get the chance to win a signed away shirt
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Having enjoyed the first four World Cup games, it's time for a stressful one, maybe even a nail-biting one. England get their campaign underway tonight at eleven of the evening clock and it's against Italy the team who's world cup record is second only to the hosts.
But I hear a lot of people saying that the imaginatively nicknamed are an older team now, maybe even a one man team with Mr Pirlo being the one man. Well they're certainly not a one man team, they have ex-Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, a mature Gianluigi Buffon, Serie A’s top scorer Ciro Immobile and a few others who are certainly going to play a part however elderly they might be. And looking at the average ages of the squads, England are only a year and a half younger than Italy's average of 27.9.
So talk of an ageing side doesn't seem quite accurate and even if their better players are a little long in the tooth, is that such a bad thing for them? Already they are the acknowledged experts at playing competition football. Italy are well known for strangling games into submission to get a result so an older and possibly wilier version may not be what some of our less experienced players will be adept at dealing with. So this could be a very tricky game for England if the Italians are allowed to impose their style upon the game.
On the other hand, if Roy sends the team out with the intention of getting at Gli Azzurri, we could find that we walk away with the three points. The problem is that we will be playing in quite warm surroundings which could have an impact on the pace of the game by slowing the players down. A slower game would suit the Italians better than us with their experienced players able to take a more considered approach.
For England it has to be Steven Gerrard. He had a decent season with Liverpool, even if his mistake did come at a key time in the race for the Premiership. He's a massively influential player with his age and experience and his performance will be a vital factor in how England do. If he's well rested and properly motivated, he could lead our team to a respectable showing, but if he's not, the younger heads could begin to drop.
For Italy it's predictably Andrea Pirlo. If he's allowed to, he will control the game and Italy will win. Much like Gerrard, Pirlo is now a mature player that others take their lead from, if he plays well, Italy play well. His experience means he knows all the little tips and tricks to give him a little more space to operate in and England are going to need to stick close to him to nullify his threat.
Head to Head
This fixture has been played 24 times, with England winning eight, Italy winning nine, and seven ending in a draw.
Danny Welbeck is fit having overcome the ankle knock, picked up earlier this week. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain may not be quite ready after his knee injury.
Italian full-back Mattia De Sciglio is out with a thigh strain which may force tactical changes. Midfielder Riccardo Montolivo suffered a fractured tibia during the run in to the competition and is not in the squad.
I want us to do well, I really do but I worry that canny Italian side may neutralize our threats and control the game. However, Italy sometimes start competitions slowly, limping through the group stages like a half dead gazelle so will this be another false start? I have two scorelines in mind, one from my head and one from my heart. My head says that experience may trump youth this time and that despite injuries and age, Italy will take this one 1-0. My heart says that Italy are on the wane, they have key injuries and they will blow their first game again, giving us a thumping 3-0 win, after all, if Holland can beat Spain 5-1, we can put three past Italy.
To make this a bit more fun, we've asked Shrewsbury Town manager Mickey Mellon and assistant manager Mike Jackson for their predictions for the BIG game. We also asked Shrewsbury Town Media manager and my son Jacob for their predictions.
Mickey Mellon- England 1-1 Italy
Mike Jackson- England 0-0
Jacob Braddock- England 2-2 Italy
Ian Whitfield- England 0-0
Marcus Braddock- England 3-0 Italy
Do you want to make a prediction and be in with a chance to WIN one of the new SHREWSBURY TOWN AWAY SHIRT?
Just go to www.facebook.com/groups/shrewschat/
and join the group and add your prediction to the “World Cup prediction competition” discussion that will be pinned to the top of the discussion board.
If you guess the correct scoreline you get three points, if you predict the correct result only, you get 1 point. A running total will be calculated for each player based on their predictions for the England group games and any subsequent England games. In the event of a tied score, a tiebreaker will be set. A list of the top players will be published after each game and will also be included in the preview article for the following England game.