They may have lost their past three games against Italy at major finals, but England will not be looking for a draw in their FIFA World Cup™ opener against the same opponents next Saturday.
After three weeks of preparation in Miami, Portugal and in the heat chambers of St George’s Park, England arrive in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday for the meat of their summer.
The last time the two sides met was two years ago, when the Italians knocked England out of UEFA EURO 2012 on penalties after a 0-0 stalemate in which Hodgson’s team were passed off the park. Unlike last time, a goalless draw would not result in a shoot-out lottery from 12 yards.
Instead it would give England a solid base on which they could go into their next games against Uruguay and Costa Rica. But there is certainly no suggestion from the England camp that a draw will be good enough.
“We never ever discuss [playing for a draw],” the England coach said. “Steven Gerrard has never heard me once before a game say, ‘Listen lads, a 0-0 might suit us today’. We just concentrate 100 per cent totally on how are we going to attack and how are we going to defend. I’d like to win it.”
England captain Gerrard echoed those comments during a briefing at Barry University, where England had been training in Miami ahead of last night’s goalless draw with Honduras. Gerrard has been impressed by how the new additions to the England squad have settled into the international scene and he sees no reason why Italy cannot be beaten.
“A win is better,” he said. “You are never going to go into the game trying to get a draw. You always reach for the stars, we go in there trying to get the three points. We have our game plan and if we perform to the best of our ability, there is no doubt about it, we can beat this team, although we certainly won’t under-estimate them.
“If we fall short and end up with a 0-0 draw it’s not the end of the world. It’s an OK result but it’s not the result we want because if we get three points in that first game we are in the driving seat in the group.”
When England and Italy last met, it was Andrea Pirlo who ran the show. Pirlo was by far the game’s leading passer with 131 passes, 87 per cent of which found their target. England's Ashley Cole made 44 passes, the most on the team.
Pirlo ran 11.58 kilometres, more than any England player, and he also chipped an audacious penalty over Joe Hart in the shoot-out win. As a fellow midfielder, Gerrard has a lot of admiration for Pirlo and he concedes England must do all they can to shackle the 35-year-old.
“I’ve been a big fan of him for many, many years. Even when I was an attacking midfielder I still used to watch his game as a controlling midfielder and was a huge fan,” the England captain said.
“He’s in terrific form at the moment, he seems to be getting better and better the older he is getting, which is hopefully the case it’s going to be with myself. It’s important we don't give him much time and space when we come up against him because he can influence any game, he has got that ability. We have huge respect for Pirlo.”
Paul Scholes earlier this week suggested Hodgson should deploy someone to man-mark Pirlo - a tactic Sir Alex Ferguson used in the past against the playmaker in the Champions League.
Hodgson appears reluctant to do that though in the Group D opener. “You don’t necessarily stifle Pirlo by putting one man on him because that will open up lots of spaces elsewhere,” the England manager said.
“You can restrict spaces in many ways. We will make certain we restrict the space for him with our team play.”