The talking, not to mention the procession of international friendly fixtures, finally stops this weekend as the real business of the World Cup gets under way and for England it begins with what is theoretically their toughest Group D assignment; a mouth watering showdown with Italy in Manaus.
The pair last met in the knockout stages of Euro 2012, the Azzurri prevailing on penalties after a goalless encounter on that occasion and while this contest won’t be decided from the spot, Cesare Prandelli’s charges are nevertheless BetVictor’s narrow 7/4 favourites to emerge triumphant again.
The Three Lions are slight outsiders at 21/10 via Ladbrokes but it’s clear that bookmakers are anticipating a close affair as the top price available about a stalemate is Skybet’s 2/1. Similarly, it’s just 11/2 at best via BetVictor to be 0-0 again while bet365 rate a score draw at 15/4 and it’s 5/1 at Paddy Power to end one-apiece.
Patriotic but cautious punters can back Roy Hodgson’s side at 4/5 in Stan James’s ‘Draw No Bet’ market and Winner.com hand them a goal start in the handicaps at 9/20 but even though England go into the tournament mercifully free of the hype that usually surrounds them, there are still likely to be fans expecting big things and they’re sure to want to risk their hard-earned a touch more optimistically.
For them, bet365 price the Three Lions at 3/1 to shade it by a one-goal margin and in a fixture that’s a banker at 4/9 (betway) to produce fewer than three goals, BetVictor offer 13/2 about England grabbing the only one.
At the other end meanwhile, Daniel Sturridge is a 13/2 chance with Stan James to break the deadlock, Wayne Rooney is priced identically, this time via BetVictor and supporters seeking heftier odds can opt for skipper Steven Gerrard (14/1, bet365) who may well have the responsibility for taking penalties.
England and Italy to draw – 2/1 (Skybet)