Italy has seldom had a more difficult opening to a World Cup campaign, coming up against an England side nicely mixing youth with the experience of players like Steven Gerrard.
The England and Liverpool skipper will be battling for midfield supremacy with my good friend Andrea Pirlo.
But while I think Gerrard is great, Pirlo is a genius – definitely the best around in his role.
So, how can Italy beat the English in the heat of the Amazon in a first match that is crucial for both teams?
Simply, they’ll have to create good, intense possession; keep the match pace and, most importantly, make their opponents run. The heat will be intense, so you have to make your opponents tired and with Pirlo pulling the strings that’s what will happen.
Players like Gerrard and Rooney are important assets for England: they have fought hundreds of battles, and they know exactly what it takes to play in a World Cup. But I also like some of the younger players, especially Daniel Sturridge, he’s a rapid striker and he has had a great season.
Hodgson’s England group is talented and skilled, but in my opinion Italy is much more solid. I believe Italy has something more and that’s why they will triumph.
During my career I experienced many matches against English clubs and the national team. For example, in 1997 we won at Wembley thanks to a Gianfranco Zola’s goal. I sat on the bench that evening, but I was impressed by the energy, the fighting spirit and the effort of the English. They always seem to give their best at home, with more difficulties playing abroad.
We always managed quite well against them and I think we will in Manaus.
Things have changed a little since that night 17 years ago. Back then Serie A was the best league in the world, while the Premier League was still emerging.
Now the English League is definitely the better of the two, but it hasn’t had a direct benefit on the English national team, and we should say the same for Serie A.
Not so long ago there were more restrictions about how many foreign players could play in a team and it was easier to identify the strength of a league through the value of its own national team. Not so any more.”