As a contest, "it's close", Teddy Sheringham said. Italian defenders and English journalists have much in common, he declared yesterday when asked which he feared most.
Sheringham missed England's 4-0 victory over Moldova at Wembley last month with cracked ribs but seems certain to return against Italy after scoring against Juventus for Manchester United last week.
"There were a lot of things going on that night. I was surprised it took so long for action to be taken," Sheringham said yesterday as he offered an insight into how physically tough an ordeal it is likely to be tomorrow in Rome's Olympic Stadium. "They are very clever in their manner. Perhaps it won't be a straight-out kick like the English but they will have their first `tackle' in some way.
"Football is always physical but in different ways at different levels. Against Italy, it won't be like Wimbledon pumping the ball up in the air and then battling for that. If you watch from the corners, Italian defenders don't let you move at all.
"They actually start with the hands round you and don't let you move. How it's not a foul, I'll never know. But they seem to get away with it and so you have to adapt to that. You have to manoeuvre away from that and find your own space by losing your man."
Earlier this week, Paul Ince spoke of his experiences at Internazionale and how he was taught to take the man if not the ball, as far away from the penalty area as possible. Sheringham is well aware of the dangers of retaliation. "The last thing you want is 10 men for the last 40 minutes," he said.
Yesterday, the word from within the Italian camp was that they feared a partnership of Sheringham and Ian Wright and were unsure of their own front pairing; whether, even, to combat with a back four or three. Certainly, Sheringham said, Wright was high on confidence while he himself was beginning to find his feet at Old Trafford.
"United haven't seen the best of me yet but it has been coming together and last week helped," he said. "When you are winning you can only see yourself winning." The aim on Saturday, he added, was a similar display to last year's 2-0 win in Georgia.
"That was the most professional performance I have ever been involved in," said Sheringham. "We need something like that again but it is going to be harder because the Italians have a lot more about them than the Georgians." At least, though, he will not have to worry about the tackling of off-field adversaries who take "one word out of place and make it a headline."
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