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A county divided: Kent world cup fans prepare for a clash as thousands of Italians choose whether to support England

By KentOnline reporter

Tonight's match will be a clash of the Titans - as two great footballing nations prepare to go head to head at the start of the World Cup.

Love it or hate it, the match against Italy is sure to be a late night nail-biter.

But for some there will be even more reasons to sit on the edge of the seat, as the clash at the Arena Amazônia stadium in Manaus gets personal.

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Having spent 16 of his 30 years in Kent choosing whether to support England or Italy, tonight’s World Cup clash is a difficult task for Alessandro Biscardi.

The owner of Vesuvius Restaurant, in Lower Stone Street, Maidstone, moved to the county from San Giorgio a Cremano, in Naples, when he was 14 and has a deep love for his adopted country.

He often watches England games with old school friends from St Gregory’s, in Tunbridge Wells, and has found it hard to choose teams in the past.

This year, however, the presence of Napolitan strikers Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne in the Italian squad has made his decision a lot easier.

The inexperienced strikers scored all five of the Azzurri’s goals against Fluminense in their final warm-up game on Monday and he cannot hide his pride.

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Mr Biscardi said: “I really love England but having two strikers from my region has swayed me.

“This year I will be hoping Italy win but when we played each other at Euro 2012 [Italy won on penalties] the decision was much less easy.

“Unfortunately I do not know how I will see the game. Even though it is at 11pm my restaurant is fully booked and as my sister Barbara is ill it is down to me to run it.

“I think I will set the laptop up in a corner and have it on mute because I do not want to miss it.”

In fact, according to the latest census figures, more than 2,000 Italians have made our county their home, with 370 in Medway, 330 in Canterbury and a further 230 in Thanet.

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Gabriella Icardi, from Turin, is one of them, after coming to England for work experience back in the '80s.

She now works in a language school in Canterbury but lives in Rainham.

Gabriella said: “My sons and I are going to cheer for Italy.

“They’ve inherited the passion from me and my family but we’re all so close to England that it’s impossible to be impartial.

“I just expect to see a great moment of sport and, if England wins, I will support it till the very last match.”

Eugenio Ceriello flew from Naples to England in 2011. He first lived in Canterbury but moved to Dartford later on.

Children sporting England colours celebrate the Football World Cup in at South Borough Primary School in Maidstone

He said: “The match is just a big excuse to see each other. I am going to watch it with a handful of friends in my living room."

For those wanting to stray a little further afield than their living room, pubs across the county are laying on TVs for die-hard fans who can stay up beyond the 11pm kick-off.

The Crown in Rochester High Street has two big screens and nine TVs and will be open until 2am.

Manager Peter Kray said he was set for the roller-coaster of the qualifying rounds – and even allowed himself to get a little optimistic about England’s chances.

“We’ve got a bit of a party going on and all the staff are dressing up in England kits,” he said.

“It should be fun, we’ve usually got a good atmosphere and everyone behaves themselves. Everyone supports England so there’s no trouble.

“I think we could reach the quarter finals. You never know with England."

Ian Osbaldstone, manager of the The Prince of Wales in Railway Street, Chatham, felt the country’s mood was downbeat in the run-up to the tournament.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m staffed up and ready to go but I don’t know what the deal is this year. With this World Cup there’s not a lot of talk.

“You wouldn’t think there was a World Cup on.”

But it really will be a game of two halves at a Tenterden pub.

Landlord Rob Cowan at The Woolpack has designated the main bar at the front of the 15th century inn a World Cup Free Zone - not showing any of the matches, with staff encouraging people to keep mention of the tournament down to a bare minimum.

But at the back, footie excitement will reign - with the bar hosting every game in the inn’s Barrelhouse, projecting them on a giant 15ft screen with hi-tech surround speaker systems.

For some, though, the hangover of a late-night match will extend further than a headache the day after.

A World Cup warning is being issued by Kent County Council’s road safety team – don’t drink and drive.

Motorists will face penalties of a different kind if they drink and drive and could end up with a driving ban of at least a year, a fine of up to £5,000 and possibly prison.

KCC’s road safety team is working with pubs and clubs across Kent to provide ‘red card’ beer mats and posters reminding drivers of their responsibilities.

Kent Police are cracking down on drink-drivers over the summer months and motorists suspected of the offence will be stopped and breathalysed not only in the evenings, but also in the mornings.

Steve Horton, Kent County Council’s road safety team leader said: “Evenings spent watching the games and drinking could lead to disaster.

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“We want people to enjoy themselves and to be sensible; to think tactically by leaving the car at home or bring on the substitute, non-drinking designated driver.”

Kent Police sergeant Hannah Brown, from the roads policing unit, said: ‘‘In June and July 2012, when the last major football tournament was held, Kent Police arrested 361 people for drink-driving and other related offences.

“Already, since this month’s crackdown began on June 1, we’ve arrested more than 60 people.

“Our warning applies not only to those returning home at the end of the night after watching World Cup games in pubs and bars, but equally anyone planning a get-together away from the TV.

“Anyone heading home or out to work the next morning may still not be fit to drive and should expect to be stopped by officers.”

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