There are a number of high-profile contests in the first few days of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, and England vs Italy takes a backseat to none of them. The game, to be played in the Amazon venue of Manaus, is a genuine clash of titans.
As far as former England captain Bryan Robson is concerned, victory against the Azzurri would represent a massive step toward the Round of 16 for his former side. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the legendary midfielder shared his thoughts on the current England team, his own experiences playing on football’s biggest stage, and some likely stars here at Brazil 2014.
The former Manchester United talisman was positive when asked about the quality in Roy Hodgson’s England team. “The squad contains the best players currently available to England, and there is a nice blend of old heads and young talent,” said the veteran of Spain 1982, Mexico 1986 and Italy 1990. “I think that’s fundamental to the success of the team.”
“We’ve got Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and Frank Lampard, whose international experience and quality go without saying,” Robson added. “And then there’s also Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson, who lack experience, but will make up for that with their determination to prove themselves against the best players on the planet.”
Young stars set to shine
Robson is convinced that Brazil 2014 could be a turning point in their careers of some of the younger players. “After a long, hard season, the time has come to see what these players can produce together on the pitch. Brazil 2014 could be a turning point in their careers, which are really just beginning,” he said.
And what about the pressures associated with performing on such an immense platform? “There shouldn’t be too much pressure on them, because England’s expectations are fairly modest this time around,” he explained. “They should just go out there and enjoy their football.”
I think that this group of players can show us something a bit different.
In the aftermath of Brazil 2014’s official draw it was argued that England’s Group D was the most competitive section of the competition. The group features three former world champions: Italy (four), Uruguay (two) and England (one). Robson agrees it’s a tough pool indeed. “It’s one of the hardest groups, if not the hardest,” he said. “It contains very experienced teams that have previously achieved great things in the competition. On top of that, they’re bursting with top-class players, some of whom are household names,” he said.
“Uruguay have some brilliant individuals, who have demonstrated what they are capable of over the past few years,” said Robson, no doubt referring to the likes of Edinson Cavani and Liverpool star Luis Suarez. “They came close to reaching the Final in 2010, and went on to win the Copa America the following year. Italy regularly perform well at World Cups. And let’s not forget, Costa Rica should not be underestimated,” he warned.
Only win will do against Italy
For Robson, the opening match against Italy is crucial. “The first game is always hugely important in terms of qualification, and even more so when you’re in a group like this one. England need a victory that will convince them that they can reach the knockout stage. A defeat, on the other hand, would be very hard to recover from.”
Despite facing a trio of tricky opponents, the ex-West Brom manager is confident about his country’s chances: “I think that this group of players can show us something a bit different.”
Could the English go as far as they did in Italy 1990, when Robson and co lost in a tight semi-final to West Germany? “We were better than the Germans on the day, and deserved to reach the Final, where anything could have happened," he said. "I hope that this team will follow in our footsteps.”
As to which performers will stand out at this upcoming World Cup, there are two names on the Englishman’s lips. “I think the spotlight will shine on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo,” he said “Those two have been the biggest stars of our game in recent years and I suspect their rivalry will continue in Brazil. Their failure to do well at the last World Cup will certainly be a huge source of motivation, and I see them really stamping their names on the tournament.”