England to Win – Evens
Of those in the Italy squad under 30, only Lorenzo Isigne and Marco Verratti stand out as the quality performers, with Jorginho a touted talent but unproven at international level. In times gone past the four-time world champions could at least rely on a rock solid defence built from some of the best defenders around. Now, only stalwart Leonardo Bonucci has more caps than Man United make-weight Matteo Darmian, who is among those who’ll likely protect Gigi Buffon’s goal tonight.
By contrast, England are enjoying their usual pre-tournament hype-building victories. The Netherlands, another storied footballing nation fallen on hard times, provided the fodder for the most recent morale-booster. Jesse Lingard scored a winner that could pose questions for Gareth Southgate when it comes to picking his teams in Russia.
England’s longer-term form is also encouraging. Unbeaten in seven, a run that includes draws with Germany and Brazil, the Three Lions bandwagon is picking up pace. There’s little reason to expect this struggling Italian group to knock a wheel off yet, making even money an attractive proposition this evening.
Correct score: 1-0 – 5/1
The Azzurri’s lack of cutting edge is underlined by their recent results, failing to score a goal in their last three games. Most crucial among those dud performances was a nil-all draw in their playoff second leg against Sweden – a game they had to win to qualify – which says everything about their current state.
England haven’t been free-scoring in recent times either. Their last two-goal haul came against Slovakia in September. In five games since, they’ve collected a grand total of just three goals. The absence of Harry Kane doesn’t help their case this evening, but there are options behind the Spurs centre-forward who are more than capable of threatening the underwhelming Italian backline.
Importantly, England have also not conceded any goals in their last five games either. Given Italy’s lack of fire power, it’s not difficult to see these trends continue. A tight 1-0 victory for the home team looks almost pre-destined. At 5/1, it’s clearly worth a punt.
First Goalscorer: Marcus Rashford – 4/1
With Kane out, the strikers in Southgate’s squad have an opportunity to grab the manager’s attention with just two warm-up games left between now and Russia. Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford are the leading options to take over in the Spurs forward’s absence, and both got a run out against the Netherlands without impressing.
Vardy’s pace is his biggest asset, but against an Italian team likely to sit deep, he’s unlikely to find many chances to use it. Rashford’s deceptive trickery could be the crucial factor against an Italian rear-guard, even if he does not get to start.
Also, Rashford’s lack of game time under Mourinho since Christmas should have him keen to impress his international manager. Italy ought to present the perfect conditions for him to show why he should be part of England’s first team in this summer, and 4/1 looks a good price for him to be the difference maker.
* All odds correct at time of posting.