Wayne Rooney still world class, says Baichung

Aditi Tyagi

On Day 2 of the FIFA World Cup 2014, Netherlands defeated World champions Spain in a much talked about match. In yet another high-octane clash, England will take on Italy. In an exclusive chat with Aditi Tyagi of Zee Media, former Indian skipper Baichung Bhutia analysed the game.

Excerpts from the conversation:

I hope like several other fans, you too are enjoying the Football World Cup. What are your thoughts on the England vs Italy match?

Their group is the Group of Death, as Uruguay too are a very strong side, thus both the teams would want to start off their campaign on a winning note. A draw would be good for them, but a loss would mean that they would have to face a team like Uruguay. After the Spain vs Netherlands match, all eyes would be on the England vs Italy match as these two matches were the most talked about in the group stage.

Will heat be a major challenge for both the teams?

Definitely and England’s coach Roy Hodgson had earlier expressed his concerns about playing in a hot atmosphere. Both the teams will have to bear it. The problem would be that under such hot conditions, the spectators won’t witness quality football. Temperature would be a major challenge for both the teams and the one that can cope with it, will get the advantage.

What according to you would be the combinations for both the teams for this match?

Italy are known to go with their combination of 4-3-3. Their star player is Pirlo who over the years has been their main weapon. Today also, Pirlo will play a key role. Balotelli would be another key player for them. England on the other hand are coming up with new strategies. Hodgson usually prefers a 4-4-2 combination. But in the warm up matches, we saw Hodgson experimenting a lot. He played with a combination of 4-2-3-1. Wayne Rooney prefers to cover all parts of the ground. Steven Gerrard – the legend, had been playing in the defensive midfield for Liverpool and today also he should be playing as a holding midfield.

I would like to ask you about Wayne Rooney. The experts are of the opinion that he doesn’t deserve to be there.

That, I believe, is a harsh comment. I believe Rooney is a world class player, he has done well for his club in some of the biggest tournaments as well. But yes, he hasn`t got much success in World Cup matches. There is a lot of pressure on him as he has never scored a goal in a World Cup match. It is important for him to score a goal and if he does that in the first match, it would ease the pressure off him. This England squad is full of youngsters. But they need Rooney there and he needs some support which I am sure the team will give him.

England usually plays with a 4-2-3-1 combination. What combination will you pick for them?

Hodgson prefers playing with the 4-4-2-4 combination. But several new players have come to the team as a result of which Hodgson has made several changes, even in the combinations. I think England will opt for a 4-2-3-1 combination. Three midfielders with support a single striker and we would see a lot of movement from the midfielders, especially Rooney, who would support Sturridge. We can also see a lot of exchange of positions from Wayne Rooney. Raheem Sterling – who had a good season for Liverpool might play from the right side of the midfield. He would be expected to create passes for Rooney and Sturridge. Steven Gerrard will play at the holding midfield. Even though it is a new formation for England, the players have the quality to be a part of it. As far as Italy are concerned, they always prefer playing with the 4-3-3 combination.

Talking about Buffon, he is another key player for Italy. Italy are known to be slow starters, but they played the Confederations Cup last year. How easy or tough is it going to be for Italy?

Yes, whether it is any European tournament or the World Cup, Italy are slow starters. Despite that, they reach the last four in most of the tournaments. They reached the final in the European Cup and even if you look at their record at the World Cup, they have often made it to the semis. Buffon is an experienced goalkeeper and has already appeared in three World Cups. I think his experience and leadership would matter a lot. Italy’s strength has been their strength. Their defenders play in a very compact manner, while Pirlo plays freely and creates passes. They hardly give an opportunity to the opponent’s strikers to breach through their defence.

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