The Rio Report

Revealed: The three England stars who can hurt Italy

The Rio Report

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Such is the commensurate nature of the World Cup, games are so often decided by one moment of individual brilliance or a lapse in concentration from the opposition. It's more often the former - especially given the world's best players are on show - but in closely-fought combat, one player can prove the difference; the margins are even finer on the biggest stage when the stakes are so high.

[ENGLAND V ITALY MATCHPACK]

[SMYTH: PAST PROVES HODGSON MUST TRUST IN THE FUTURE]

[BUFFON DOUBTFUL FOR ITALY]

To that point, it's imperative a manager has as many match winners in his squad if they are to harbour any hopes of a successful campaign. There have been examples of collectively industrious units exceeding all expectations - think Uruguay in 2010 - but ultimately it comes down to a masterly core. Players that can swing the game in their sides' favour out of nothing or forage an opportunity in an otherwise unyielding affair.

This is particularly applicable to the first round of group games; both sides are, more often than not, ensuring they don't lose their opening fixture. That will very much be the case in Manaus on Saturday as the two frontrunners - Italy and England - battle to advance from Group D. Much has been made of Roy Hodgson adopting a potentially conservative approach with the mindset of not losing. Therefore, it's highly likely that the game - which will take place on what seems a substandard playing surface - will be a scrappy, bitty encounter; it could well be decided by one moment of individual brilliance.

So, who in the England side is capable of producing that match defining juncture?

Leighton Baines

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A defensively solid and reliable left-back, but Baines is just as comfortable operating as an auxiliary winger. One feels that space in midfield will be at a premium so if the Everton man can hug the touchline on the left and spread play than England may just reap the rewards. In a recent friendly against Republic of Ireland, the Italians were extremely compact and struggled to cope when the Irish went wide, doubling up with full-backs - including Baines' team-mate Seamus Coleman - overlapping the winger. If anything, the Azzurri's weaknesses is in defence and Baines can expose any defects with his unerringly accurate crosses and set-pieces.

During the Premier League season, Baines created 48 chances with almost half of those coming down the left flank in the final third. There is nothing spectacular about his game but what makes him so effective is he does the simple things better than most. What's more, he wins 60% of his duels and is as reliable as they come from the penalty spot.

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Jordan Henderson

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So often ridiculed in the past, Henderson's ascension to a staple part of Liverpool's midfield tells its own story. He had struggled to live up to the hefty price tag following his move from Sunderland but Henderson came into his own last term as the Reds staged an unlikely title assault. Their challenge faded away towards the end of the campaign when Henderson was suspended and that speaks volumes for his influence. Henderson's industry will see him become a rudimentary part of Hodgson's plans and his energy to get from one end of the pitch to the another will be crucial in conditions completely alien to England.

Although James Milner offers the same type of diligence, there is no doubt Henderson offers more competence both on and off the ball. Three of Henderson's four Premier League goals last term came around the inside of the box, highlighting his ability to get into goalscoring positions. If Hodgson deploys just one striker, the onus will be on Henderson to provide as much support as possible by making darting runs into the Italian area; evidence suggests this is a natural tendency which has become ingrained under Brendan Rodgers at Anfield.

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Jordan Henderson Premier League Goals Last Season

His capacity to find pockets of space in between the lines will be crucial to boot. The Italians are likely to employ a shield in front of their defence and while much of their attention will be on the likes of Rooney, Sturridge and Gerrard, Henderson could reap the benefits by catching them cold. With the ball, he's just as proficient, not least because he's under the tutelage of Rodgers but his early days at Sunderland were in the orchestrator's role; his pass accuracy in 2013/14 was 87% with over half of those going forward.

Daniel Sturridge

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With Wayne Rooney's form a concern - and give his past impact, or lack of it, in big tournaments - all eyes will be on Daniel Sturridge. He has been one of the in-form strikers of the season and has all the attributes to make a big impact on the international stage. That said, will a busy season, his first real full campaign, take its toll? England will certainly hope not as he has the power and pace to stretch a slow Azzurri rearguard by making runs down the sides and creating space for others in the central areas. It's important, however, that Sturridge doesn't drop-off in order to get involved in the action. England need someone to lead the line and with Rooney likely to play slightly deeper, Sturridge will have the burden of that responsibility.

Once in a goalscoring position, Sturridge is as clinical as they come and probably England's - Rooney apart - most natural finisher.

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