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Neil Humphreys
Sunday, Jun 15, 2014

Sports

World Cup: Three steps to heaven

The New Paper | Neil Humphreys | Sunday, Jun 15, 2014

Preparing for italy: England manager Roy Hodgson (with cap) speaking to his players during training at their base in Rio de Janeiro.

The England mood is quietly veering from cautious to mildly optimistic.

At Euro 2012, the toothless Three Lions were dismissed as wheezing, moaning old men, raging against the dying of the light.

Their football belonged to the dark ages. Fast forward two years and a little youthful buoyancy has found its way into England's game.

Instant humiliation no longer seems the likeliest outcome. Qualification appears a distinct possibility, if not quite a racing certainty.

Here's how England could leap across those three steps to heaven (or the knockout stages at least).

1 ITALY

When the Three Lions face off against the Italians, they'll be forgiven for thinking they were standing in front of a two-year old mirror.

There are faint echoes of England's 2012 ignominy around the Italian squad.

Ageing, slowing familiar faces saddled with a stubborn mindset and a domestic league resistant to change.

The evolving game has drifted from their grasp. That accusation was levelled at England at Euro 2012. The Italian media has heaped similar criticism onto their stalling superstars.

Ever the pragmatist, Cesare Prandelli has tried to tinker with the "soak-and seek-out-an-opportunity" approach, but is not blessed with the youthful personnel that has fallen into Roy Hodgson's lap via Liverpool, Southampton and Everton.

In the recent poor draws against Luxembourg and the Republic of Ireland, there was more than a hint of routine plodding about the Italians. They were mundane. They were often muddled.

Against England, Daniele de Rossi should bark away on a leash in front of his back four.

Muzzle him and England's speed will be the last thing the Italian defence needs, particularly after conceding three against Brazilian club side Fluminense.

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