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Game on: Italy missing Buffon, Sterling starts for England

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One of the most anticipated games of the World Cup’s opening weekend, Italy’s meeting with England today in Manaus, Brazil, took a turn early today when Azzurri captain Gianluigi Buffon was ruled out with an ankle injury sustained in training. Instead of the 36-year-old’s 140 international appearances and experience at four previous World Cups, Cesare Prandelli will turn to Salvatore Sirigu, whose ninth international appearance will be by far his most important.

England is not without its own injury concerns, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out while Danny Welbeck nurses a thigh problem, but none of those ailments can detract from today’s bigger story. These are two of the most storied nations in the soccer world, and although this is only their first game of Brazil 2014, there is an urgency to these first 90 minutes. Grouped with defending South American champions Uruguay, both England and Italy will be thrown into two must-win scenarios if they can’t get a result in Manaus.

Here’s how the teams will line up for today’s 6:00 p.m. Eastern kickoff:

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Starting lineups:

England: Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Welbeck, Sterling, Rooney; Sturridge;

Italy: Sirigu; Darmian, Paletta, Barzagli, Chiellini; De Rossi, Pirlo, Veratti, Candreva, Marchisio; Balotelli

Talking points:

1. England’s Andrea Pirlo obsession – It’s not that the Three Lions are wrong to be concerned about Italy’s midfield magician, but it’s strange to see a player who’s not named Messi, Ronaldo, or Ibrahimovic become such a single-minded focus of an opponent. Given how Pirlo performed against England at Euro 2012 (as well as the talent around him), you can’t blame Roy Hodgson for dwelling on the now-legendary distributor.

2. How do you help Sporadically Super Mario? – Whether Prandelli starts somebody with Mario Balotelli up top will be a game-to-game concern, but the reality of Italy’s attacking options remains the same: The team only has one proven goal scorer in the squad, and for better or worse, it’s the mercurial Balotelli. 

3. Some good old English bravery – Hodgson is known for his conservative approach, but in the lead up to Saturday’s match, there was an increasing hope that the former Inter Milan and Liverpool boss will roll the dice with his quick attack against a veteran (read: slower) Italian team. Facing an Azzurri side that should control the ball while needing its fullbacks to augment the width of a narrow midfield, the Three Lions should have their changes to counter, but to what extent will Hodgson play for those moments? Moving Southampton’s Adam Lallana to the bench gives us hint number one.

4. That pitch in Manaus – Particularly in this country, with the U.S. starting its tournament on Monday at the same venue, the quality of the field in Manaus has been a major concern. According to reports, part of the field appear to be painted, portraying an unnatural color of green. If the field’s a mess, it will be even more difficult for these two teams to distinguish themselves.

Expectation: Italy is generally seen as the slightly better team, with its run at Euro 2012 and performance at the 2013 Confederations Cup confirming that perception. Matched up against England, however, the Three Lions’ potential width plus the speed of Daniel Sturridge have given prognosticators pause. There is no clear expectation for this one.

One blogger’s prediction: The last time these teams played a competitive match, 120 minutes passed without a goal. Today’s game my not end scoreless, but where a loss would be a huge blow to either side, we still see a draw.

VIDEO: T&T women’s team gives away one of the most bizarre PKs

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Play until you hear the referee’s whistle. In theory, so simple. In practice, it only takes a single second of concentration lapse to become an internet sensation for all the wrong reasons.

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Such is life for Karyn Forbes, member of the Trinidad and Tobago women’s national soccer team. In the above video, you’ll observe Forbes, a 24-year-old midfielder, giving away perhaps the most bizarre penalty kick you’ll ever see. You’ll have to watch for yourself to believe it.

[ MORE: USWNT opens Olympic qualifying with 5-0 victory ]

Unfortunately for Forbes, though the whole of the ball might have crossed the whole of the end line, the referee did not blow her whistle… not until Forbes picked the ball up with her hands and carried it to her goalkeeper.

Bundesliga to go ahead with video replay tests over two years

FILE - In this Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, file photo, a Hawk-Eye camera is set up at Toyota stadium in Toyota. For the first time at a World Cup, technology will be used to determine whether a ball crosses the goal line during matches at the upcoming tournament in Brazil. With vanishing spray also being used to prevent encroachment by defenders making up a wall during free kicks, officials at the highest level of the world’s most popular sport are finally getting some assistance. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)
AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama
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BERLIN (AP) The German Football League (DFL) has given the go-ahead for the possible testing of video replays in the Bundesliga over a two-year pilot phase.

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The DFL says it will be lodging an application with FIFA to take part if the pilot phase is approved by the International Football Association Board at its next annual general meeting on March 5.

The DFL says video replays could be used by a “team of impartial match officials for the purpose of avoiding any evidently incorrect decisions” and that the pilot phase would be preceded by “intensive preparations.”

[ MORE: 17-year-old American MF Pulisic gets Bundesliga debut for Dortmund ]

These would include the settlement of costs among FIFA, the IFAB, the DFL and German football federation, as well as training for the candidates.

West Ham extend Payet’s contract in “enormous show of faith”

West Ham’s Dimitri Payet celebrates after scoring while soap bubbles are blown during the English Premier League soccer match between West Ham and Newcastle at Boleyn Ground in London, Monday, Sept. 14, 2015.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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West Ham United hope Dimitri Payet is going absolutely nowhere after the club announced on Thursday the 28-year-old Frenchman has signed a contract extension through the summer of 2021.

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Payet’s current contract was scheduled to keep him at the Premier League club through the summer of 2020, but a series of standout performances (6 goals, 4 assists so far this season, mostly during the season’s opening three months) and rumors of interest from “bigger” clubs meant tacking on another year — and plenty more cash — was the best way to keep Payet in east London for the foreseeable future. The club confirmed earlier this week that negotiations over an extension were underway.

“He’s the best player I’ve signed in 25 years,” said West Ham co-owner David Sullivan. “He’s a [$43 million] player. He’s a supreme footballer. He makes every player in our side play better. On his day, he’s world class, he’s unstoppable.”

Payet, who’s been at West Ham just eight months after signing last summer, could still depart in the summer should he finish the current season strong and/or show up and show out at the European Championship, which kicks off in June. In that event, West Ham would now bag a much heftier transfer fee than they would have done prior to the extension.

VIDEO: Dele Alli’s magnificent juggling goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon

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Remember that Dele Alli goal? No, not that one… that one. Of course you remember it. How could you not?

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How often does a player receive the ball out of the air, flick it over his head, spin 180 degrees and hit an inch-perfect volley from 20 yards out to secure all three points for his team? The answer is, of course, not very often.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal

Thus, a goal such as Alli’s stunning winner against Crystal Palace last month has been, and will continue to be, immortalized through numerous recreations in this Digital Age. Above is Alli’s goal recreated in hand-drawn crayon.