The tactical approaches of England and Italy’s wily coaches Roy Hodgson and Cesare Prandelli will come under the microscope with the oppressive atmosphere of the Amazon rainforest providing the backdrop for a Group D clash today.
The contrasting qualities of youth and experience will compete to tame Manaus’s punishing jungle humidity as a fresh-faced England, largely unburdened by past failures, play a wizened Italy, with a squad still imbued with their 2006 World Cup success.
England, whose qualifying campaign was underpinned by Hodgson’s natural caution, look set to put their faith in a pack of attacking youngsters with only a handful of caps between them but with energy in abundance and plenty of hard running in the tank.
Italy, by contrast, still revolve around midfield metronome Andrea Pirlo, a veteran of their final victory over France eight years ago, to set the tempo for a possession game where the ball is jealously guarded and energy conserved rather than expended.
Pirlo is one of three current Italy players with World Cup winners’ medals along with 36-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon and 30-year-old midfielder Daniele De Rossi.
Italy’s legacy of success, having reached the final in two of their last four major tournaments as well as a semifinal appearance at last year’s Confederations Cup, contrasts strikingly with England’s record of persistently flattering to deceive.
Yet one advantage of England’s new-look side is there will be no hangover from 2010 where they exited the World Cup in a 4-1 last-16 defeat to Germany.
Captain Steven Gerrard, right back Glen Johnson and striker Wayne Rooney are the only likely starters on Saturday to have survived that dismal performance.