MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — One thing is for certain when England plays Italy in Manaus on Saturday — there will be plenty of World Cup newcomers on the field.
Both teams have 17 players with no previous World Cup experience on their 23-man squads, an unusual situation for two of football’s traditional powers. Here is a look at some of the most exciting tournament debutantes on both teams:
CIRO IMMOBILE: The blonde-haired striker led Serie A with 22 goals — none of them penalties — for Torino, then completed an 18.5-million euro ($25 million) transfer to German power Borussia Dortmund days before traveling to Brazil. Italy coach Cesare Prandelli considers him an alternative to Balotelli at center forward, and with his current form there are growing calls back home for him to start.
LORENZO INSIGNE: The diminutive Napoli winger was a controversial selection ahead of Giuseppe Rossi but he appears to have carried over his form from the end of the domestic season, when he scored twice in a 3-1 win over Fiorentina in the Italian Cup final. He paired with Immobile in attack en route to winning the Serie B title with Pescara two years ago. Like Immobile, he comes from the Naples region and the pair communicate in Neapolitan dialect. He was married two weeks before traveling to Brazil.
MARCO VERRATTI: At 21, this talented midfielder is the youngest member of Italy’s squad but he’s already been a regular at French champion Paris Saint-Germain the past two seasons. He also got his start on the Pescara side with Immobile and Insigne in 2011-12 and Prandelli appreciates his versatility. Considered the heir apparent to playmaker Andrea Pirlo, Verratti is expected to line up next to Pirlo against England in a more traditional midfield position. Pirlo said this week that Verratti “will become one of the best midfielders in Europe.”
MATTEO DARMIAN: A surprise inclusion in Italy’s squad, this versatile fullback only made his Azzurri debut a couple of weeks ago in a warm-up match with Ireland. Now he appears ready to start against England at right back. Prandelli admires his ability to play on either the left or the right, and Darmian began his career as a center back. He started his professional career in AC Milan’s youth system and was a key member of Torino this past season, teaming with Immobile and Alessio Cerci, another new Italy forward.
GABRIEL PALETTA: Italy is known for producing strong defenders so it raised eyebrows when Prandelli called up this Argentine-born center back for a friendly against Spain in March. But the 28-year-old Parma player impressed against the World Cup holder and now appears set to start against England. Along with Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, he was a member of the Argentina under-20 team that won the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship. He gained Italian citizenship through his great grandfather, who emigrated from Calabria.
The 18-year-old defender was picked ahead of boyhood idol Ashley Cole as the backup to the assured Leighton Baines at left back despite having made just one international appearance before the squad was announced. Although also dangerous going forward, Shaw’s best hope of playing on Saturday will be as an impact substitute.
The emergence of Raheem Sterling has softening the blow for Roy Hodgson of Theo Walcott being ruled out through injury. The 19-year-old Liverpool winger can produce devastating bursts of pace and if he doesn’t start will likely come off the bench against Italy.
After England exited the European Championship in 2012, Roy Hodgson identified Jack Wilshere as one of the players who could, in the future, provide the creativity missing in Ukraine.
But the Arsenal midfielder has been held back by injuries. Since breaking his left foot during England’s win over Denmark in March, Wilshere only managed two substitutes’ appearances for Arsenal before linking up with the England squad. Now Wilshere will be hoping he can make an impact from the bench in Brazil.
England coach Roy Hodgson sprang a surprise by calling up Adam Lallana for the November friendlies against Chile and Germany, and the versatile attacking midfielder retained his place in the squad for the draw with Denmark in March. After the 25-year-old Lallana maintained his lively goal-scoring form for Southampton, he is now in line to start for England against Italy to provide an element of unpredictability.
While Wilshere has been seen as England’s future midfield star, Ross Barkley may be an even bigger talent. The 20-year-old Barkley had a breakthrough season with Everton in the Premier League, scoring spectacular goals and setting up many others. He showed in England’s warm-up games that he’s not afraid to take on opponents one-on-one when given the chance.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris
Andrew Dampf can be followed at www.twitter.com/asdampf
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