Football: Italy from Albertini to Zola

Roy Hodgson, the Blackburn manager, gives the inside story on Maldini's men
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The Independent Online
Glenn Hoddle has left nothing to chance in his preparations for Rome. Rather than relying on a local interpreter, the England coach has hired Roy Hodgson to check that nothing gets lost in the translation in his jousts with the Italian press. After two seasons at Internazionale, Hodgson is fluent in Italian and wise to the more devious ways of the local press.

It is a wise move by Hoddle, not least because the Blackburn manager has first-hand knowledge of the players England will face on Saturday, should he need an instant reference guide. Hodgson still follows the Italian game through the pages of the Gazzetta dello Sport, the Italian sporting daily, which is delivered to Blackburn's training ground, and his standing as a coach remains high in Italy, despite his abrupt departure from Internazionale earlier this year.

England, Hodgson says, cannot afford to play for the draw which would put them automatically through to the World Cup finals in France next summer. "It's not part of the English mentality anyway. To defend well, they have to get a goal." The problem for Hoddle's opposite number, Cesare Maldini, is finding the right balance between caution and aggression. "He is very much a players' man rather than a man for detailed tactical planning. In that he is very different from Arrigo Sacchi, his predecessor. If he throws caution to the wind, England have the players to exploit it; if he opts for the cautious approach and it does not produce a goal, he will be criticised for that."

This is Hodgson's assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the Italian side:

Angelo Peruzzi: An English-type goalkeeper. Reminds me of David Seaman in that he is quiet, strong and brave; a good shot-stopper, good on crosses and very experienced. You have to score a good goal to get by him.

Paolo Maldini: His best position is left-back, but I'm not sure whether he will play there. He can do everything, go forward, defend, strong in the air, a good passer. I have a feeling he's not been fully fit for a year or so now, which has taken the edge off his pace. But he has to be watched at set pieces. He might be the long-term successor to Franco Baresi in the centre.

Alessandro Costacurta: If they play with two markers, "Billy" will probably be the sweeper, though he is used to play as one of two centre-backs at Milan. Not blessed with great pace but a good all-round defender, not a playmaker but comfortable on the ball and very experienced.

Ciro Ferrara: A tough character, an aggressive competitor and vastly experienced, as Manchester United will testify. Not in the mould of old Italian hatchet men such as Claudio Gentile, he's a good defender in the best sense of the word. He knows when to go tight, when to drop off, where he should be. It's an undervalued art these days.

Christian Panucci: Will probably only play right-back if Maldini adopts 4-4-2. He's got good pace without being lightning and is very solid, good in the air, fair shot. Capello would probably like him back at Milan if he could get him from Real Madrid.

Fabio Cannavaro: Maldini likes him because he was one of his old Under- 21 squad. He was a surprise choice at Wembley, but fully justified his selection. If Ian Wright plays, Cannavaro will probably take him because he's quick and a good man-marker. He's young but has a good temperament. He's the sort of player Italy will be looking to for the next five years.

Demetrio Albertini: A coach's dream. In a friendly against Portugal, he didn't make one wrong decision in 90 minutes. He's well educated and, though a good passer, very careful with the ball. Free-kick specialist.

Angelo Di Livio: His work rate is abnormal. He can cover the complete flank - up getting in crosses one minute, back helping the full-back the next. Not got the vision of Zola, but not bad on the ball. Someone said to me this summer: "I think Di Livio might be available." I said "I don't think so." Coaches don't let players like that go.

Dino Baggio: A sort of modern Marco Tardelli. Very strong in the air and a solid tackler. He's really a defensive midfielder but he likes to go forward. Big and a good athlete as well. He might come in for Roberto Di Matteo. Same sort of player, though not quite as clever on the ball.

Alessandro Del Piero: He's an out-and-out front player in my book. A form player; sometimes he's in, sometimes out. He plays with small margins of error because he's always looking to master the difficult skill or look for the most difficult ball.

Pierluigi Casiraghi: An excellent English-style centre-forward, brave as a lion and a real handful for defenders. He's like Jurgen Klinsmann in his skill level and the ability to take the one chance that comes along. Unbelievably honest. Maldini might want a long-ball outlet and Casiraghi will provide it.

Filippo Inzaghi: Slim and fast, but still inexperienced for a game of this stature. For me, he will be more likely to come on as a sub. It depends whether Maldini wants pace or strength. Very quick-witted in front of goal, a good opportunist. It was a big move from Atalanta to Juve, but he's already done well.

Gianfranco Zola: Awareness, vision, good ball control, this guy has everything. He's a good dribbler and quick on the turn, but he doesn't just dribble for the sake of it, he'll beat a couple of defenders and then hit the killer pass. I'm not sure man-marking would be the answer; you have to squeeze the space around him, force him on to the centre-backs, not let him roam in that space behind the forwards. A nightmare for opposition coaches.

Interview: Andrew Longmore

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