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World Cup the focus as England, Italy meet again

It might feel like a lifetime ago but it’s just 52 days since Roy Hodgson’s side were dumped out of the Euros on penalties. Simpler times.

England manager Roy Hodgson during the training session at London Colney Training Ground this week.
England manager Roy Hodgson during the training session at London Colney Training Ground this week.
Image: Daniel Hambury/PA Wire/Press Association Images

ENGLAND AND ITALY meet again in Bern tonight, just 52 days after Roy Hodgson’s side exited Euro 2012 following a penalty shoot-out defeat to the Azzurri in the quarter-finals in Kiev.

But this re-match, which also comes just three days before the start of the new Premier League season, is not about revenge.

Instead, England are looking to the future, with Hodgson taking an inexperienced squad with him for the encounter at the Stade de Suisse in the Swiss capital.

Wayne Rooney and captain Steven Gerrard were among the senior players left out for the game, along with centre-back John Terry, who was free to play despite being charged by the Football Association for using racially abusive language during a clash with Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand at Loftus Road last year.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and goalkeeper Joe Hart also pulling out because of injuries, only three of those who started against Italy on June 24 are in the squad this time. There are four members of the Team GB Olympic football team, and while they — like England this summer — suffered a quarter-final defeat on penalties, Hodgson will hope the quartet of Jack Butland, Ryan Bertrand, Steven Caulker and Tom Cleverley can bring some of the post-Games feel-good factor that is sweeping Britain with them.

“I’d love to tap into the whole Olympic atmosphere,” Hodgson said. “I’ve been really impressed by our athletes in how they have won medals and embraced their victory.”

Holding this match so close to the start of the new club season means it is seen by many as an inconvenience, but England are looking for a boost ahead of their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, which begins with a double-header in Moldova and at home to Ukraine in September.

And Hodgson — whose late appointment allowed him to escape whatever criticism may have come his way at the Euros — is looking to see just how wealthy his options are as he attempts to build a team capable of competing in Brazil in two years time. One of those who could feature, against Italy and in the years to come, is Butland, the 19-year-old Birmingham City goalkeeper whose only club experience to date remains 24 games in a loan spell in the fourth tier with Cheltenham Town.

He and Norwich City’s John Ruddy are the only available ‘keepers after Hart withdrew with a back injury.

“It’s what dreams are made of,” he said. “Unfortunately it has come due to an injury but if I get the chance it’ll be a dream come true. If I get the chance then fantastic. I’m not going to put too much presssure on myself. I’m very excited and have been striving towards this.”

Italy’s performance at Euro 2012 gave them great hope for the future, even if Cesare Prandelli’s side were taught something of a lesson in a 4-0 final defeat to Spain. The Azzurri, who will take to the field in Bern in a shirt commemorating their 1982 World Cup triumph, will also field a largely experimental side for the game.

No Juventus or Napoli players are in the squad because of their involvement in the Italian Supercup, played in China at the weekend, while Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli will miss the game because of conjunctivitis.

His place has been taken by Udinese’s Diego Fabbrini, who is one of a host of new faces hoping to make an impact.

“We want to pick up from where we left off at the European Championship now that we have earned more credibility from the public,” Prandelli said, his focus now turning towards a World Cup qualifying programme that starts in Bulgaria on September 7.

“Already in Bern I want the team to make a strong impact, a disciplined performance, with the right tempo.”

- © AFP, 2012

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