Italy vs England: Wayne Rooney warns Harry Kane things could be tougher tonight than against Lithuania

The sides meet in Turin

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The Independent Football

When the England players walked out on to the pitch at the Juventus Stadium on Monday night, on a warm spring evening, they were returning to the scene, albeit rebuilt, of one of English football’s most famous occasions. That night in Turin when England lost in the World Cup semi-finals to West Germany was only 25 years ago but it took place three years before the birth of Harry Kane.

He is the latest man to inherit the burden of the nation’s football team’s unfulfilled expectations and his first start for England against Italy represents yet another point on the steep upwards trajectory he has plotted since breaking into the Tottenham Hotspur team in November.

LIVE: Italy vs England latest score

If Friday’s night’s debut goal against Lithuania was the “fairy tale”, as Roy Hodgson described it, then this will be the kind of game which will stretch even Kane’s capacity to adapt to the maximum.

It was Wayne Rooney who explained how Italian defenders represent a very different challenge to that usually posed to strikers. “With Italian defenders, they’re very clever. They do anything to try and stop you and you have to be aware of that, and not be frustrated. At the minute, what Harry is doing he must continue with. He’s taking the ball and running at defenders, getting shots at goal. That’s all he has to do [against Italy] and I’m sure if he does that the way he has been, he’ll be fine.

 

“Italy is a passionate country who love their football, probably the closest in Europe to South American teams. They’ll do anything to stop you. They’re tough to play against, organised, make it as difficult to play against as possible. They’re the best in Europe at doing that.”

These friendlies, when they fall as the second game in an international break, often throw up a team that is shaped by injuries and a manager’s eagerness to try something radical.

With nine players having withdrawn from the squad already, Hodgson is of a mind that rather than try to replicate the usual system he should try something completely different.

Hence the plan to play Phil Jones in holding midfield and Rooney at the point of a diamond behind Kane and Theo Walcott. It is a brave departure but, with seven victories from seven since the disastrously early exit from the World Cup last year, Hodgson has bought himself some time. He no longer even talks about there being a question of England qualifying for Euro 2016, and you can see why.

For Walcott, there is a major opportunity to get his stalled England career up and running again, having slipped behind the likes of Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck in the pecking order during his long absence through injury. These are the games that can change a manager’s perception of a player, for better or worse and, back in a country where he was so proud to have been a coach, Hodgson will be in no mood to be beaten.

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Coach Gary Neville shares a joke with members of the England squad during a visit to Juventus Arena on Monday night (PA)

He said once again that he needed to show some faith in Ross Barkley as the Everton man goes through a difficult season in his development. The 21-year-old, a substitute against Lithuania on Friday, was once in the position Kane now finds himself in, but he has drifted this season as Everton have struggled.

As a result, it looks unlikely that Barkley will start the match. Just five months younger than Kane, he will reflect on how an end product to the Spurs man’s game has elevated him this season. They both played together for England in the ill-starred 2013 Under-20s World Cup finals campaign in Turkey and Kane has now overtaken Barkley.

“He [Barkley] and Everton hit the heights last season,” Rooney said. “He hasn’t done as well as the team [Everton] haven’t [done] recently. But I spoke to him after the game on Friday night and the only advice I gave him was to watch the game from the bench with England.

“He will know how to get into the opposition, where the spaces are. That’s what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said to me when I was young, so you know where to be when you come on. If it helps, then great.”

England have secured wins in friendlies like these in the past – they beat Germany in Berlin in November 2008, Spain at Wembley in November 2011 – and Hodgson will expect to learn something from this game. Even if it is a case of what does not work as opposed to what does.

Key confrontations: where the friendly will be won and lost

Giorgio Chiellini v Harry Kane

Experienced defender, who featured as Italy let in two early goals in their draw with Bulgaria on Saturday, aiming to repel the Premier League’s joint-top scorer this season. Kane will be desperate to add to his international debut goal against Lithuania.

Mirko Valdifiori v Wayne Rooney

Huge opportunity for Empoli midfielder to impress on his debut in the absence of Andrea Pirlo. Faces daunting task of countering the threat of Rooney, who needs just two goals to equal Sir Bobby Charlton’s record as England’s all-time top scorer.

Graziano Pelle v Chris Smalling

The Southampton striker has failed to score in the Premier League since December, but the 6ft 4in attacker will still be an imposing opponent for Smalling. The Manchester United defender will face a good test of his international credentials in his 16th England appearance.

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