It is a tough topic. I think it depends on the force of your hope and how confident you are of the fulfillment of your desire. I have the feeling that perahaps there is a line where italians stop using "hope" and switch to "aspettarsi" or other similar verbs whereas english speakers move that line a little forward or after that line they just use "hope" and "expect" as synonyms. But this is just a thought with no base.
I looked it up in the italian dictionary and in the thesaurus. The generic meaning of "sperare" is "to hope". But sometimes, in particular contexts, "sperare IN qlc" has the meaning of the reflexive verb "aspettarsi qlc (to expect sth)" especially when the phrase is in the negative form.