England vs. Italy, 2014 World Cup: A primer for new fans

Two sides that are always different and always the same collide in what could be one of the best games in the Group Stage.

SB Nation's 2014 World Cup Bracket'

Update: Italy beat England 2-1

England vs. Italy is the sort of game that should probably be a knockout one, but Italy messed around after sealing qualification earlier and suffered a drop in the rankings as a result, so here we are. Mario Balotelli vs. Wayne Rooney. Steven Gerrard vs. Andrea Pirlo. Er, James Milner vs. Thiago Motta. It's all here.

Playing styles

These two nations have big stereotypes to live up to about the way they play, but they don't exactly fit them. England are famed for charging around the pitch like madmen without thought for personal safety or things like 'positioning' or 'not exhausting yourself after twenty minutes', but that might not be the case here. Steven Gerrard is older and plays a more withdrawn role, while everybody has been begging Rooney not to try too hard and burn out. England will still play two banks of four, and they'll still attack with fairly direct passing and whipping in crosses, though, so the old classics will still be here.

Italy, meanwhile, are stereotyped as a defensive nation. Far moreso than a team that produces genuine world-class talent on a regular basis should be. That's an undoubted strength of theirs, but it's not the focus of this team (in reality, it really never has been, but this isn't the time for a history lesson.) True, Italy will probably keep the pace of the game slow, but that's to allow their players like Andrea Pirlo to really work their magic. Italians all play like stars, regardless of how good they are, and they're built for World Cups. They'll be reliant on a moment of magic to score goals, but with Mario Balotelli, Andrea Pirlo, Daniele de Rossi, Antonio Candreva and Alessio Cerci able to provide it, they'll probably get one.

England's stars

Wayne Rooney is the obvious one here, and he had a pretty good season even as his club had their worst for many a year. He's come in for heavy criticism before the tournament though, even getting into a spat with a Manchester United legend in Paul Scholes. There are fears that Rooney is too impulsive, and particularly at World Cups, tries too hard. United fans will tell you that for everything of his that comes off there are tens that don't, and he's generally a huge double-edged sword when he plays, albeit one capable of scoring the decisive goal in a crucial game.

England aren't a one-man team, however. They have Daniel Sturridge, who could be lethal if he can replicate his club form for England, while Danny Welbeck seems to do well whenever he puts on an England shirt. Gerrard will be looking to pull the strings from deep, and a lot of England's attacking threat could actually be provided by their left-back, Leighton Baines.

Italy's stars

Andrea Pirlo is certainly one to watch, as he looks to operate in a deep-lying free role in the game to get as much time on the ball as possible and orchestrate his team's attacks. The other big one is Mario Balotelli, a striker seemingly constructed purely with World Cups in mind -- an all-rounded, multi-faceted striker who is one of the most lethal, composed finishers in the world.

But there are others here. Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci will be looking to reprise their partnership for Juventus with the national team and provide defensive excellence. Daniele de Rossi will be doing a lot of the dirty work in midfield, and the legendary Gianluigi Buffon will be in goal. And while it proved to be a tournament too early for many of Italy's youngsters, such as Domenico Berardi and Stephan El Shaarawy, the AC Milan full-back Mattia de Sciglio is one to keep an eye on. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli sensationally left his old favourite Domenico Criscito out of the squad, and it's left-back where the youngster will probably be lining up, attempting to make his name as the next Paolo Maldini.

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