Euro 2012 Social Match Preview: England v Italy
England face Italy in the Quarter-Final of Euro 2012 tonight, with both sides arguably exceeding pre-tournament expectations.
In some quarters, England were not backed to get out of their group and as for Italy – their team hasn’t quite had the same authority on the international stage since their World Cup win in 2006.
Despite the English media’s reservations, England topped Group D after a hard fought draw against France, a thrilling 3-2 win over Sweden and a professional 1-0 victory over joint-hosts Ukraine. A sequence that saw England’s unbeaten run under new boss Roy Hodgson move to five(four wins and a draw).
Hodgson, pure and simply, has made England difficult to beat. The emphasis has been placed on being organised and solid at the back, whilst also defending as a team.
It could be argued that England’s new philosophy bears quite a resemblance to the Italian way of playing – and seeing as Hodgson had two spells in Italy with Inter Milan, you wouldn’t bet against it.
If previous meetings between the two sides are anything to go by, then tonight’s game will be a tight and cagey encounter. Eight of the last nine games between the countries have either ended in a stalemate or the odd goal has won it.
England’s record in quarter-finals is not how they would like it to be – they have lost seven out of 10. However, they are looking to grace a major semi-final for the first time in 16 years – their last semi-final appearance coming at Euro ’96, which they hosted.
To reach the semi-final, they have to get past an Italian side that has grown in confidence over the course of the tournament – navigating their way out of a group that included Ireland, Croatia and reigning world and European champions Spain.
They too have a relatively new man in charge, Cesare Prandelli. Since he took charge, Prandelli has guided the Azzuri to 13 straight competitive wins and you just know he would love to make it 14 this evening.
It is reported that Roy Hodgson will keep faith with the starting XI that got England over the line against Ukraine, meaning that despite some unconvincing performances, James Milner will start on the right hand side of midfield.
Wayne Rooney will almost certainly get the chance to show that he has shaken off the rust that was so evident against Ukraine and it is rumoured that his Manchester United strike partner Danny Welbeck will again get the opportunity to shine ahead of the impressive Andy Carroll.
England have a number of players one booking away from missing the semi-final; Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Ashley Young, Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all have to be on their best behaviour.
The Italians have an incredible nine players who would be best advised to stay on their feet. The most notable players being veteran goalkeeper Gigi Buffon, midfield anchor Daniele De Rossi and the Jekyll and Hyde character that is Mario Balotelli.
It is widely rumoured that Balotelli will start for Italy, bringing him into direct competition with Manchester City team mates James Milner, Joleon Lescott and Joe Hart.
Thiago Motta should take his place in Italy’s midfield following a hamstring problem, however defensive stalwart Giorgio Chiellini is sidelined by a thigh injury – his place is expected to be handed to Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci.
Predicted starting XI's
England: Hart, Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole, Milner, Gerrard, Parker, Young, Rooney, Welbeck.
Italy: Buffon, Abate, Bonucci, Barzagli, Balzaretti, Marchisio, Pirlo, De Rossi, Motta, Cassano, Balotelli.