Gianfranco Zola believes Italy “have something more than England” in their World Cup group, outlining strengths and weaknesses.
The Watford manager spoke to La Gazzetta dello Sport after the 2014 World Cup draw placed Italy with England, Uruguay and Costa Rica. Click here for the full fixture list.
“The game that can set the tone for a tournament is usually the opener, so in this case I think Italy-England will fit the bill,” said Zola.
“Along with the technical difficulties of two football powers, the climactic conditions will add to the problems. Manaus is hot, humid and far away.
“The English feared having to play there, but it won’t be easy for us Italians either, so physical fitness will be fundamental.”
The nations haven’t faced off competitively since the Euro 2012 quarter-final, when Italy dominated the 0-0 draw and went through on penalties.
England have won their last two friendly encounters with the Azzurri, both 2-1 scorelines in August 2012 and March 2002, but Zola is far from concerned.
“At this moment, Italy are the favourites. In major tournaments we have beaten England in 1980, 1990 and 2012. The English tend to beat us in friendlies, such as in August 2012, but in official competition they struggle.
“I don’t know why that is, but perhaps Italy are more prepared for facing a World Cup, while the English are exhausted at the end of the season. Their fixture list is non-stop.”
Former Chelsea star Zola gave Italian fans the lowdown on England’s strengths and weaknesses.
“Their strong point is the attack, as Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Andros Townsend have the goal in their blood. The experience of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard is also precious. Roy Hodgson is a well-travelled Coach who knows our style of football well.
“The weaknesses are the goalkeeper and defence in general. Joe Hart is having a difficult time, while losing charismatic figures like John Terry and Rio Ferdinand weakened the back four.
“The replacements have not shown themselves to be up to the task, so our strikers could really make the difference.
“England’s hope is that some young players can make their mark leading up to the World Cup. Jack Wilshere or Ross Barkley seem ready, in my view.
“However, Italy – our Italy – have something more.”