England v Italy: Bright young Italy trio can be thorn in England's side in Manaus

There could be some surprises for England from when they met at Euro 2012

England are not the only side hoping that youth will be their secret weapon in Manaus. Cesare Prandelli’s Italy are also planning to surprise England with players who were not there when the teams last met, at the Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev.

The old spine of the Italy team, that Marcello Lippi put together to win the 2006 World Cup, is still the same. England, as they are very well aware, will have to find a way through Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi in midfield, Andrea Barzagli in defence and Gianluigi Buffon in goal.

But this Italy team is about more than just the old masters. There could be as many as four players in their early twenties starting tomorrow night. While Mario Balotelli is, as far as he possibly can be, a known quantity there will be players whom England have never faced before.

 

At right-back there is Milan’s 21-year-old Mattia De Sciglio but the most exciting three could play further forward: Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Marco Verratti, Napoli winger Lorenzo Insigne and Borussia Dortmund striker Ciro Immobile. These three, aged 21, 23 and 24 respectively are among European football’s most impressive talents. Their young careers first converged some time ago.

Those three players – all in the mix to start in Manaus – were playing for Serie B side Pescara three years ago on the Adriatic coast. They were only together for one season, before going their separate ways in 2012, but it was a remarkable year in which they fired the club to promotion with brilliant attacking football.

Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Ciro Immobile in training with Italy Andrea Pirlo, Riccardo Montolivo and Ciro Immobile in training with Italy  

Pescara have only played in Serie A for six seasons in their history, but the trio of youngsters were inspired by playing under legendary Czech coach Zdenek Zeman.

Zeman has been working for nearly 30 years in Italy, getting his teams to play thrilling inventive attacking football but never quite staying anywhere long enough for sustained success. He took over at Pescara in the summer of 2011, inheriting the precocious talent of Verratti, a local boy and youth academy graduate. He took Insigne on loan from Napoli and Immobile on loan from Juventus.

The three combined brilliantly, as Pescara won promotion through sheer weight of goals. They scored 90 in 42 games. Immobile was top scorer with 28 goals, while Insigne managed 18. None of them, though, played for Zeman’s side in Serie A. Verratti was sold to PSG, Insigne returned to Napoli while Immobile moved to Genoa.

From there the trio – none of whom went to Euro 2012 – have done enough to force their way into Prandelli’s plans for this World Cup. Verratti has won consecutive French titles and marked himself out as one of the bravest and most gifted midfielders in the game, always showing for the ball for the good of the team.

With his brilliant touch, his chessboard vision and his control of play, Verratti is thought of as the natural successor to Pirlo but he is likely to line up alongside the Juventus legend tomorrow.

Mario Balotelli Mario Balotelli  

Immobile has been in the form of his life this season, adding the Serie A top-scorer title to his Serie B award from 2012. His 22 league goals for Torino, his selfless running and his threat on the break earned him a £16m move to Borussia Dortmund,  but also a place in Prandelli’s thoughts.

A hat-trick by Immobile against Brazilian club side Fluminense in a friendly on Sunday night might just give him the edge over Balotelli, the presumed likely starter through the middle. (Balotelli is six months younger than Immobile but, unlike his rival, has featured in international and Champions League football for four years now.)

Prandelli is likely to play  4-3-2-1, and while Antonio Candreva is favourite to start, he is competing with Insigne on the left. The little Neapolitan only forced his way into the squad late on, with Riccardo Montolivo injured and Giuseppe Rossi not fully fit, but he has shown for Rafael Benitez’s Napoli side that he has the confidence, the nerve and the ability to score from nothing. He scored twice in the Coppa Italia final last month and would not be fazed by anything he faces in Brazil.

These three stars have just 13 full caps between them. Prandelli did not take them to the Confederations Cup in Brazil last summer, as they went to Israel instead, taking Italy’s Under-21s to the final of the European Championship. Immobile scored in the final – which Italy lost 4-2 to Spain – and Verratti was named in the team of the tournament, but their progress has only quickened in the 12 months since.

All of Italy is thrilled for them, and hopes that they play, but so is a 67-year-old from Prague. “I am very happy for my boys, I’ll be cheering for them,” said Zeman this week. “They are not only good at football, they are good guys. They gave me so much and I hope I have given them something. They are my pride of today.”

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick