Soccer

Butler: Azzurri go in search of slaying St. George in Amazon

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Noel Butler
6/14/2014 3:14:39 PM
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With serious allegations of corruption monopolizing the news cycle leading into the World Cup, the last thing FIFA needed following the opening match of Brazil 2014 was for the global headlines to be dominated by the awarding of a mystery penalty which would alter the course of the contest.

Too bad the ref's vanishing spray, which was first introduced in tournament play at 2011's Copa América, is only effective on the grass. We were all left wondering when the football would finally be the focus.

All those questions were answered by the Dutch dominance of the World Cup holders yesterday.  In the second half alone, Spain conceded twice as many goals as they did through seven matches en route to a first World Cup triumph in South Africa four-years ago.

Then for an encore, Chile and Australia played out a highly spirited encounter.  Jorge Sampaoli's team were very convincing, and certainly would have won over many new admirers, that one of South America's less glamorous nations, would be the one which punches well above its weight class at Brazil 2014.

With Groups C and D taking to the pitch Day 3 provides us with the only quadruple header of the tournament. Where armchair enthusiasts the world over are treated to the prospect of four matches over the course of 11 hours.

Today's headliner without question is the rumble in the jungle, as the aptly named Arena da Amazonia plays host to Italy v England.

With four World Cup triumphs already to their name, a record which is only bettered by Brazil's five, if Italy is the preening peacock of European football, then England is its Hippopotamus. Rare, if ever, has the land of St. George got their heads above the waterline during World Cups.

Quite coincidentally the last time that happened was at Italia 90, which was also the last time the two nations met at a World Cup.  Courtesy of Toto Schillaci's late penalty, Italy prevailed 2-1 in the third-place playoff match.

Through the entire history of World Cup quite remarkably, that meeting represents the only time the two nations have met at the tournament proper. They have though met in qualifying twice.

The most recent time was for France 1998. Zola's superb strike at Wembley in February 1997 was the difference maker. The return fixture in Rome saw England claim a famous scoreless draw and with it top spot in the group. 

The iconic image of England captain Paul Ince's head swathed in a bloodied bandage typified England's approach on the day. One which had the current England manager Roy Hodgson assisting Glen Hoddle, officially in the role of interpreter.  Hodgson was Inter Milan's head coach at the time.

When the World Cup Draw took place in Zurich early last December Manaus was chosen as the venue. 
The Arena da Amazonia, built at a cost of $300M has been in the news for all the wrong reasons as four workers have died during its construction.

Brazilian football legend come politician Romario has been outspoken in his criticism. Pictures emerging on Thursday of a sub-standard surface the latest setback for a stadium which will host four group stage games.

With Buffon set to miss out due to an ankle injury which occurred in training yesterday, combined with Montolivo fracturing a leg May 31st, the psychological edge certainly goes to England.

Not that Prandelli's team will need extra motivation this evening - but the only European nation to retain a World Cup [1934, 1938] is still smarting from its inability to emerge from a weak group in South Africa. A tournament they went into as defending champions. 

With soaring heat and intense humidity factoring, for England to stand any chance they will have to overcome the Achilles heel which has dogged them through the ages.

Chasing shadows in the pursuit of a ball they surrender more casually than Andrea Pirlo completes successful passes.

Based on statistical evidence and World Cup history, losing your first group stage game almost guarantees elimination. 

Although Prandelli nor Hodgson would admit it, if the game finishes as it did in Rome back in fall 1997 neither of them will be too upset.

Noel.Butler@BellMedia.ca
@TheSoccerNoel on Twitter

TSN Radio is an official licensed radio broadcaster of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ Brazil. Check www.tsn.ca/radio for the broadcast schedule in your home town.

Pirlo Abate Insigne Cassano (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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