Italy-England meeting a juicy storyline

England's Wayne Rooney arrives for a news conference ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro,...

England's Wayne Rooney arrives for a news conference ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, June 11, 2014. (REUTERS/Darren Staples)

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:18 PM ET

RIO DE JANEIRO - Normally, not many situations get my juices flowing to the point where I turn into a fan of a particular team.

Events get me excited. Assignments get me excited. My paycheque gets me really excited. Teams rarely do.

But every decade or so something comes along that even the most jaded, seen-it-all person can feel the deep-down rumblings that something special is going to happen.

England-Italy in Manaus Saturday is special.

It is the best of the games in the group stages at this World Cup.

And it’s being played in a city that’s being portrayed as a cross between Hades and Mordor.

From a competitive standpoint, whenever Italy and England meet it’s a big occasion. It has only happened 24 times in history, with Italy winning nine times and England eight.

Italy and England have only met twice in the actual World Cup, with Italy winning the third-place game in 1990.

This is the first World Cup game the two will have played that actually means anything. They’ve played qualifiers for the World Cup and games at the European championship and a slew of friendlies.

But this one is the real deal.

Somewhere my dad is waiting for the game to begin. He’s been gone since 1988 but his passion for the game and his love-hate relationship with the English remains one of my most vibrant memories of him.

While England and Italy are considered soccer powers, their history is remarkably lacking in memorable contests between each other.

What isn’t lacking is each nation’s desire to defeat the other.

“The English, they think they taught the world to play the game yet they still don’t know how to play,” dad would say.

But then ...

“The English never stop running or working,” he’d continue. “They are strong and have big hearts and lungs. Mauro, (that’s me), remember one thing, the English play an honest game. When they lose the ball, they don’t flop around like a dying fish on a Saturday on the banks of the Astico after you catch him.”

OK, it loses something in translation. But as much as the two teams love beating each other, the respect for what each nation brings to the table still remains.

You could make the argument that Saturday is the most important game the two teams have ever played against each other.

There’s no argument it will be the most unique environment the teams have played in.

The newspapers from both countries are orgasmic over Manaus.

La Gazzetta dello Sport’s headline Thursday read “Italy in the hell of Manaus.”

The newspaper has a piece summarizing stories in English tabloids warning fans about “vampire fish, piranha’s and prostitutes.”

The turf is so bad it has to be painted green.

What will Manaus be like? To borrow from Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam — “What’s the weather like out there? ‘It’s hot. Damn hot! Real hot!’”

Soccer is one sport where a mole hill becomes a mountain. The slightest change or deviation suddenly becomes the story, stories or graphic novels.

What has become almost secondary in this Italy-England game is what each team will have to do to win.

England having to control Italian midfield wizard Andrea Pirlo is a given.

The Italian defence will be challenged by English attackers and put under more pressure than anyone thinks the English are capable of.

Which version of Mario Balotelli will take the field?

With so many possible great storylines, though, there is always the fear that fear will prevent the two teams from playing to win, instead of not to lose.

It’s an attitude more likely to be employed by the Italians than English.

That being the case, wherever my dad is, he’ll be yelling that “you guys aren’t good enough to be wearing soccer shoes; you should be making them instead.”


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