While several members of his squad went to Wembley to watch Carl Froch KO George Groves on Saturday night Roy Hodgson was at Craven Cottage where he saw England's first World Cup opponents suffer a knock-out blow of their own.
As a football man of humanity he will have been deeply sympathetic to the broken leg suffered by Riccardo Montolivo, the Azzurri's experienced midfielder, but as England manager he will surely have thought that his team's luck might finally have changed. England lost Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend during the season, but now their opponents are suffering with first Luis Suarez, and now Montolivo, struck down.
Suarez may recover in time to play for Uruguay against England in Sao Paulo on June 19, but he will not be match sharp. Montolivo has no chance of facing England in Manaus five days earlier.
“That was something very negative for us,” said Salvatore Sirigu, the Paris St Germain goalkeeper. Gianluigi Buffon’s deputy, who had a run out on Saturday, added: “He's a great guy, who works so well with everyone. It's such a shame to have that so close to the World Cup.”
Th injury, sustained in a tackle with Reading's Alex Pearce, seemed to knock the Italians out of their stride after a bright start and Ireland were able to come into the game creating several good chances. Manager Martin O'Neill regretted the fact they did not take them, but, noted Irish captain John O'Shea, "I'm sure Roy Hodgson was pleased we created so many chances."
Italy began with a flexible 4-1-3-2 formation with Thiago Motta as the holding midfielder. In attack Guiseppe Rossi dropped off behind Cito Immobile. At the back the full-backs pushed on allowing the midfield trio ahead of Motta to remain narrow. This meant Italy often had seven players in the midfield area enabling them to control possession and make it difficult for the Irish to penetrate. As the game wore on Motta and Marco Verratti alternated in the deep midfield role, then when Daniele De Rossi came on after an hour for Motta he drooped so far back it was more of a 3-5-2 formation.
Either way, Hodgson will need to make sure England have plenty of bodies in midfield, which may make it difficult to play Wayne Rooney in an advanced role behind Daniel Sturridge, especially if there are attacking players like Danny Welbeck and Adam Lallana in wide midfield. That formation – as seen against Peru on Friday – carries the risk of the deeper midfield pair - probably Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson - being over-run.
More encouragingly for Hodgson Shane Long gave Italy’s central defence problems with his selfless front play, as did the cleverness of Wes Hoolahan and Adrian McGeady. Italy also found it hard to pierce the midfield cover provided by David Meyler and Jeff Hendrick.
“A team of that quality are going to keep the ball for long periods of time," said Seamus Coleman. "It was just about us being compact and trying to catch them on the break. They will be we a tough side for anyone to take on, but we are disappointed that we didn’t beat them. I’m not too sure what Roy Hodgson would have thought of Italy. The positives will be that we showed that you can get at them, but there will be other parts that he will have to worry about as well."
Coleman noted that Italy were hardly at their strongest with the bulk of their likely starters rested. O’Neill said: "There were a number of young players playing for positions in the Italian squad and it gave Roy a chance to see some of those younger players." He added: "Italy are a tournament team. It’ll be tough [for England]."
"It is very important we start the World Cup well," added Sirgu. "We have to forget what happened at the last World Cup [when Italy failed to qualify to win a game and came bottom of their group behind New Zealand, Slovakia and Paraguay]. We are looking to the future, we have prepared well and we are very determined.
"This was good practice for playing England. We faced a team who are physical and who do a lot of pressing." Of England's defeat of Peru on Friday he said: "They had confidence, and that game will only give them more confidence going forward."Reuse content