Roy Hodgson believes that veteran Italy midfielder Andrea Pirlo could pose the biggest threat when England begin their FIFA World Cup™ campaign in Brazil against the Azzurri. The England manager remembers Pirlo during his time as a coach in Italy and thinks the Juventus playmaker still has plenty of quality at the age of 34.
When asked by Italian TV station Mediaset if he feared AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli, Hodgson said: "Do we fear (Balotelli)? I know him because he played in England (at Manchester City).
"We have respect for everyone but if I have to give a name, I say Pirlo. In the last ten years, he has made Italy play. I had him three months at Inter and he has had an incredible career."
Pirlo played for the Italian team that won the Germany 2006 and has been a linchpin for Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. England take on Italy in their Group D opener in the Amazon city of Manaus on 14 June. The Azzurri, three-time World Cup winners, went undefeated to reach the top tournament in Brazil but Hodgson expects his team to be ready.
"Italy is very strong," he said. "Prandelli has done a great job in the last four years and I believe the (Italian) team has grown during this time. But is England defeated before we start (World Cup)? Perhaps that's how people in Italy see us but the game has to be played and then we shall see. I never think of being defeated before a game, I always think of winning."
Hodgson says no side will have an advantage regarding the hot and humid conditions that await them in the Amazon. "We will do like any other team that will play in Manaus, which has a special climate," the 66-year-old said. "We are doing everything possible to prepare the players in order to deal with these conditions. It's not the best situation for us but neither for Italy. I don't think right now this even represents an advantage for any South American side."