England v Italy: Euro 2012 match preview
fourth and final quarter final match sees a clash between two very similar
styles of football: the ever cautious Italians take on Roy Hodgson’s robust
As part of the build-up to tonight’s action we take an in-depth look at the two sides. We examine where the crucial battles will take place on the pitch and we bring you all the crucial stats and facts you need…
Andrea Pirlo v Steven Gerrard
Both of these men act as the midfield pivots for their respective teams. Andrea Pirlo has been in fine form during the tournament with his metronomic passing ability and the calmness he exudes. The Italian midfield maestro managed to standout even amidst the class of the Spanish midfield but his best performance so far came against Croatia when he scored a perfect free-kick. Steven Gerrard has led England by example so far. In a less advanced role than he is used to, the Liverpool man has shown a dogged tenacity in defence but has also got forward and demonstrated his superb passing ability by getting three assists. The result of this game could very well come down to which of these two men put in a better performance.
Wayne Rooney v Daniele De Rossi
Daniele De Rossi is primarily a defensive midfielder but has been deployed as a centre-back for much of this tournament and excelled there. Whether he starts at centre-back or in his more familiar defensive midfield role he will have to deal with Wayne Rooney’s guile. The Manchester United frontman does not play as an out-and-out striker but likes to drop into the space between the opposition’s defence and midfield, meaning that if De Rossi starts in defence he will have to find a balance between not being sucked out of position and not allowing Rooney too much space. If he starts in midfield he will have to be alert to the Englishman and make sure that he tracks him when he drops deep. Rooney is one of England’s few world class players but looked rusty against Ukraine. However, his goal will have boosted his confidence and he will no doubt return to the field sharper and fitter.
John Terry v Antonio Cassano
According to Uefa’s official Castrol player ratings, John Terry has been England’s best player in this tournament with an average rating of 8.85 per game, and he will have to be on his toes to keep out Italy’s key striker Antonio Cassano. The forward earned the Carlsberg man of the match award against Ireland and could use his speed to get in behind the England defence. Terry’s pace isn’t his strong point, and the Italian attack spearheaded by Cassano, may target this weakness. Terry is highly experienced though, and with a Champions league medal in his back pocket, should know how to deal with the Italian.
Joe Hart v Gianluigi Buffon
Many people expect tonight’s game to be decided by a penalty shoot-out. This eventuality fills both country’s fans with trepidation since England’s penalty history is as well documented as it is poor and the last two times Italy were knocked out of a competition in the quarter finals were after penalties. However, there is hope for both sides in the form of their keepers. England’s Joe Hart has, in his short career, established himself as one of the world’s best keepers and carries no scars from previous England shootouts. Fans will however hope that he has learnt from his mistake in an England U-21 shootout when after excelling himself – saving one and scoring one – he was booked for goading the opposition and missed the subsequent final. Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon was part of the Italian team that lost on penalties to Spain in Euro 2008 but the veteran brings with him huge experience and will surely fancy his chances between the sticks against England.
Mario Balotelli v his demons
Is he worth it? Mario Balotelli is undoubtedly an exceptional talent and one of the most exciting players at the tournament. The impulsive Italian striker is capable of magical moments on the field, as seen against Ireland with his spectacular overhead volley. However he is well known for his erratic behaviour both on and off the field. After scoring his impressive goal against Ireland his teammate Leonardo Bonucci had to cover up Balotelli’s mouth preventing him from an arrogant and unnecessary outburst targeted at the Italian coach. It is unknown whether the Manchester City front man will start against England, but there is every chance that he may be the decisive factor in the game. One thing for sure is that Balotelli is a game changer. He may lose his cool in the heat of the moment and be shown red, or he may pull something out of the top draw and stun the English players who know him (Scott Parker might say too well). The question is which Balotelli will arrive at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev on Sunday, the hero or the villain?
STATS AND FACTS…
Italy were runners up in Group C. They started their campaign with an encouraging 1-1 draw against reigning champions Spain. This was followed by a 1-1 draw with Croatia before they dispatched the group’s whipping boys Ireland with a 2-0 victory.
England finished top of Group D. With expectations low they recorded a 1-1 draw with France. The Three Lions then ended their country’s bad run against Sweden with a thrilling 3-2 victory. Their final game was a hard fought 1-0 over hosts Ukraine.
The winner of this match will face Germany in the semi-finals on Thursday the 28 June.
Both sides will have to toe the line in tonight’s match with a whole host of players one yellow card away from suspension. Italy have nine men in danger of missing the semi-final while England have 5.
Italy: Riccardo Montolivo, Frederico Balzeretti, Mario Balotelli, Christain Maggio, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chielinni, Thiago Motta, Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele De Rossi.
England: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Milner, Ashley Young, Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole.
DID YOU KNOW…
In 22 previous meetings between the two sides Italy have won 9, England 7 and there have been 6 draws.
The Azzurri have lost just once against England in 35 years.
Their only loss was 2-0 in 1997 at Le Tournoi in Nantes with Paul Scholes and Ian Wright scoring the goals.
Italy won the sides’ last meeting 2-1 at Elland Road in 2002 – Buffon is the only survivor from that game.
England did not register a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes of the game against Ukraine – the last time that happened was against Italy in Euro 1980 when they lost 1-0.
England had the best chance conversion rate (21.7%) in the group stages.
Pirlo made 2778 successful passes for Juventus this season – the highest tally for any player in one of the top European leagues. No one in the English team even came close to this.
England have won one of their six penalty shootouts at major tournaments.
The Euro Club Index emphasises just how close and difficult to call this match is. England are favoured with a 51.2 per cent of winning and Italy on 48.8 per cent. The bookies are also struggling to call this match and with not long to go neither SkyBet nor William Hill have called a favourite. So far England have exceeded most people’s expectations, now that people are starting to believe will it be another let-down or can England get one step closer to glory?
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