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O’Neill to experiment with Ireland against pragmatist Prandelli

The Republic of Ireland have lost just one of their last four meetings with four-time World Cup winners Italy. Martin O’Neill’s men are 5/1 outsiders for a friendly win, something they earned over the Azzurri as recently as June 2011.

Cesare Prandelli, who will subsequently pit his wits against Roy Hodgson, as Italy meet England in the Group D opener in Brazil, is odds-on at 8/15 to use his pragmatic approach to mastermind victory over the Irish. A draw, which has been the outcome in two of their last four encounters, is priced at 11/4.

Shameless pragmatist Prandelli has certainly pleased his employers, the FIGC, as they have rewarded him with a new two-year contract prior to the World Cup finals. Few commentators can be sure what formation and personnel the Azzurri boss will pick, but the boot may be on the other foot here as O’Neill has vowed to experiment with tactics here.

“People say I’m a 4-4-2 man,” he said. “But I used 3-5-2 for years at Celtic and Leicester. I’m open to change and will try things out over the course of these matches because this is the time to do that – not in September when the Euros start.”

In the Republic ranks, Nottingham Forest forward Simon Cox and Stoke City midfielder Glenn Whelan both have goals against Italy in recent meetings. The former is 11/2 to score again anytime, while the latter is an outside 16/1 shout.

Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli were on target in the last encounter as the Azzurri won 2-0. A repeat result here is an 11/2 chance, while recalled Cassano is 9/2 to round off the scoring and firebrand forward Balotelli is 3/1 to net last.

Prandelli is giving Giuseppe Rossi a run-out, though, as the Fiorentina frontman steps up his latest comeback from knee injuries, which have plagued have career. He is even-money for a goal anytime, while strike partner Ciro Immobile is 6/5 in this market.

Marco Verratti takes over playmaking duties from Andrea Pirlo here, while PSG colleague Thiago Motta, Juventus’ Claudio Marchisio and AC Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo complete the midfield. Torino defender Matteo Darmian will make his debut in defence, with Salvatore Sirigu between the sticks.

Man for man, there is more ability and guile in Azzurri ranks than the Republic’s contingent. A 13/10 price on Italy winning to nil, as they did at Euro 2012, represents better value than just backing them to beat Ireland.