England and Italy have played each other 26 times since 1933. Their last meeting, a 1-1 friendly in 2015 - was simply another illustration of the recent balanced record between the two sides. It's likely to make for a very competitive football betting fixture and a tight game, as Gareth Southgate finalises his squad for the World Cup in Russia.
The Italians are looking to rebuild having disastrously missed out on a spot for the first time since 1958. England need to start making a statement fast ahead of Russia 2018. However, the stern Italian resistance and the experimental sides put out to pitch could leave Gareth Southgate with a headache.
Since crashing out of the World Cup play-off virtue of the 1-0 away leg defeat to Sweden, in which they failed to overturn the first leg deficit, Italy have been licking their wounds against a background of media and fan angst. Unsurprisingly, given it was the first time the four-time champions have failed to reach the World Cup since 1958, manager Gian Piero Ventura was given the sack.
Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte and Roberto Mancini are among the bookies' favourites to get the role in June, but that leaves the squad under the interim guidance of U21 coach Luigi Di Biagio. Add to that the tragic loss of Davide Astori, and it's hard to predict the mood in the camp, but with Gianluigi Buffon coming out of retirement, the Italians seem intent on getting back to their pragmatic best.
This makes backing the draw at 9/4 with William Hill appealing. In fairness to Italy, they're probably the best side in the world to have missed out on making it to the World Cup in 2018. In qualifying, they drew a very short straw being in the same group as Spain and failing to automatically qualify, despite having played ten, drawn twice and lost once (albeit in a 3-0 hiding away to Spain).
The 1-0 playoff (0-1 and 0-0) defeat against Sweden was a huge disappointment, but the Swedes themselves had done well to make it to that stage, having been in a group containing France and The Netherlands. The squad includes plenty of experience, but also new blood, including AC Milan forward Patrick Cutrone and Fiorentina winger Federico Chiesa, with the interim manager already looking to the future.
Italy offer a stern test for Gareth Southgate's experimental squad, but it's one they realistically need to pass if they're going to head to Russia with any hope of getting to the quarter finals or better. However, the question mark for bettors is the fact that England had a very easy task in qualifying – their path through Slovakia, Scotland and Slovenia says it all.
Of course, the Three Lions have been keeping an eye on hotter opposition, courtesy of games against France, Germany and Brazil – unfortunately losing 3-2 in Paris, prior to 0-0 stalemates against the latter pair. While that offers some hope, England will be missing Harry Kane and could potentially switch lineups in each half, as Southgate looks to blood new players such as Burnley's James Tarkowski and Nick Pope, Swansea defender Alfie Mawson and Bournemouth midfielder Lewis Cook.
And that's likely to play into the hands of a tight game and betting on an England vs. Italy draw at 9/4 with William Hill could be a shrewd move, especially given the general trend against Italy. Since Le Tournoi in 1997 which England won, the Three Lions and Italy have met 8 times, with England winning 2, drawing 3 and losing 2.
Aside from the 2-0 victory in 1997, the games have all featured a single goal or less. In 26 clashes between the nations, there have only been more than two goals between the sides once – a 4-0 drubbing for England away to Italy in 1948. Given the predicted draw and likely tight nature of the clash, backing a 1-1 draw at 5/1 with Ladbrokes looks a viable punt in the score market.
With Harry Kane's injury hopefully coming early enough to have him back on song for England's World Cup campaign in the summer, for the time being it leaves the side without one of Europe's deadliest goal scorers. Southgate will be relying on Jamie Vardy, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Danny Welbeck. While an experimental lineup can be expected from Gareth Southgate and Jamie Vardy has been known to work away as a lone striker, Welbeck's height is likely to see him play as the central striker.
Crucially, while the Arsenal man has only played two times since October following injury, his goalscoring record on the international scene often rewards football bettors – he’s hit the net 15 times in 36 games for England (easily making him the leading marksman in the squad – Ashley Young coming next with seven England goals). Welbeck can be backed with best online football betting sites to be first goalscorer at 7/1 and to be anytime goalscorer at 10/3 – both of which make appeal.
England continue to gear up for the Russia 2018 World Cup and need to start putting together some exciting performances if anyone's going to back them to get much further than the group stage. However, Italian pride (and the best side to not make it to Russia) stand in their way – and that means backing an England vs. Italy draw with Betfair Sportsbook at odds of 9/4 has strong appeal in a tight looking game.