NEW: ALEX CROOK

AUTHOR: Star Sports Content

ALEX CROOK: ITALY v ENGLAND (Thursday)

We are delighted to welcome top sports journalist and presenter ALEX CROOK to the Star Sports team. Alex, chief football correspondent on talkSPORT, will be bringing his views on the big matches together with the stories behind the stories plus his exclusive starsports.bet recommendations.


England begin their bid to qualify for Euro 2024 with an intimidating trip to Naples to face Italy in a repeat of the final of two years ago.

The scars of that penalty shootout defeat at Wembley are still raw for the Three Lions, with Italy’s subsequent failure to make it to the World Cup only adding to the sense of what might have been.

It is a fixture that also provides Gareth Southgate with his latest opportunity to prove wrong the critics who claim his England are flat-track bullies, beating the teams they should but coming up short against the powerhouse nations.

Despite winning as many knockout matches at major tournaments under Southgate as they had in the best part of 50 years, Senegal (19th) and Germany (14th) are the highest-placed nations in the current FIFA rankings he has managed to oust.

France (3rd), Belgium (4th), Croatia (7th) and Italy (8th) have all had Southgate’s measure and even the USA (13th) managed to hold England, who are 6/1 co-favourites with starsports.bet to win the Euros, to a draw in the group stage in Qatar.

That poor record is one of the main reasons this will be the toughest fixture England will face in qualifying, with Ukraine, North Macedonia and minnows Malta completing the Group C line-up.

But it is arguably best to get it out of the way at the start of the group rather than as in 1997 when England finished their qualifying campaign needing to avoid defeat in Rome to reach France ’98.

ALEX’S PREVIEW ….


Italy are very much in a rebuilding process after their World Cup humiliation and have not played a match since a youthful Azzurri side lost 2-0 to Austria in a friendly in November.

Coach Roberto Mancini (pictured below), who retained the backing of the Italian FA despite missing out on a place in Qatar, has revealed concerns over an injury-hit attack which will be missing star striker Ciro Immobile.

Even before Mancini’s admission, this was always likely to be a low-scoring game, given Southgate’s safety-first approach against the bigger nations.

These two played out a 0-0 snooze fest during England’s disastrous Nations League campaign, so, following the 1-1 draw after extra time in the 2021 final, the 4/6 with starsports.bet for there to be under 2.5 goals looks very appealing.

To quote dear old Harry Redknapp, if Italy are ‘down to the bare bones’ up front, Southgate is positively blessed with attacking riches.

Harry Kane’s goalscoring feats this season have been dwarfed by the freak that is Erling Haaland but the England captain has still bagged an impressive 21 in 28 Premier League games in a toiling Tottenham team so goes into the game in confident mood.

Kane is a tempting 4/1 with starsports.bet to open the scoring, however the fact he has spent so much of his recent international career dropping into midfield may just clear the path to goal for one his fellow front-men.

It is a shame Manchester United talisman Marcus Rashford has had to pull out injured, although there is no guarantee he would have started the game anyway given Southgate sees him more as an impact sub.

The player to take advantage of Kane’s selflessness could be Arsenal’s ‘Star Boy’ Bukayo Saka, whose incredible form for title-chasing Arsenal this season surely makes it impossible for Southgate to leave out of his starting line-up.

Saka, who turned in yet another man of the match display in Arsenal’s 4-1 demolition of Crystal Palace, is 8/1 with starsports.bet to score the first goal and 7/2 to net at any time in the game.

I believe England have a fantastic opportunity to win on Italian soil for the first time since Jimmy Greaves claimed a late winner in 1961 and they definitely should have too much quality to lose.

But the fervent home crowd coupled with Southgate’s lack of victories against the big-guns has placed enough doubt in my mind to avoid putting that up as a recommendation at 13/8 with starsports.bet.

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ALEX CROOK


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