England’s World Cup bid begins on Saturday night in the Amazonian outpost of Manaus against four-time champions Italy. The main obstacle in Manaus will be a strong Italy side who knocked England out of Euro 2012 en route to reaching the final, but despite all these challenges the impression has been of a relaxed and confident camp under Hodgson.
Following a 3-0 victory over Peru at Wembley, England flew out to Miami to get better acclimatised and drew 2-2 with Ecuador before playing out a goalless stalemate against Honduras in a match interrupted midway through the first half by a storm.
While the results and performances may have been uninspiring, the youthful squad selected by Hodgson has been tipped to make an impact at the World Cup and he is happy with the options he has at his disposal ahead of the clash with Italy.
Theo Walcott is back home, recovering from a knee injury, while Arsenal team-mate Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is out after damaging his medial knee ligaments, but should be available to face Uruguay.
Danny Welbeck remains a doubt with a thigh problem but that should open the door for Raheem Sterling, Liverpool’s precocious Jamaica-born winger.
With Mattia De Sciglio likely to miss out through a calf injury, Giorgio Chiellini could be shifted across to left-back, with Gabriel Paletta coming in to cover at centre-back. Matteo Darmian could get the nod ahead of Ignazio Abate on the right of defence.
Also, Gianluigi Buffon will be missing out with an ankle injury. Paris Saint-Germain’s Salvatore Sirigu will be taking his place.
England (4-2-3-1): Joe Hart; Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Gary Cahill, Glen Johnson; Jordan Henderson, Steven Gerrard; Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney, Adam Lallana; Daniel Sturridge.
Italy (4-3-2-1): Gianluigi Buffon; Giorgio Chiellini, Gabriel Paletta, Andrea Barzagli, Matteo Darmian; Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi, Marco Verratti; Claudio Marchisio, Antonio Candreva; Mario Balotelli.
Player to watch out for: Wayne Rooney
When on top form Rooney is an excellent player, capable of producing moments of magic that win games single-handedly.
The problem, however, is that he’s on such form with such irregularity that onlookers are left wondering whether he’s an average player with an eye for the audacious, or a mercurial genius worthy of the footballing elite.
Perhaps to their detriment England have decided on the latter, though should — by some miracle — Rooney turn up at his best, the Three Lions should never be counted out.
These countries have played 24 times with England winning eight; Italy nine and seven matches drawn.
England defender Phil Jagielka scored the first of his two England goals against Italy, in August 2012.
Frank Lampard has had more shots without scoring than any other player at World Cups since 1966 (39 shots, no goals).
Italy have scored in each of their last 14 games at the World Cup, the longest current run. The last time they failed to score was on 3 July 1998 against France.
This game will likely be a cagey, tactical affair with neither side willing to run too many risks in such a tight group Both sides’ weaknesses mean we could see goals, though probably not many of them.