England v Italy 24th June
The UK will be buzzing tonight as England take on Italy – of course, not every section of the British Isles will be shouting for England, but one way or another there is bound to be a lot of yelling, groaning and watching from between the fingers.
Out of the four quarter final matches in Euro 2012, the outcome of England v Italy is the toughest to predict. Whilst neither team has been particularly poor, they haven’t exactly lit up the tournament either.
For England it has been 16 years since they last made a semi-final in the Euros and that is something Roy Hodgson will be eager to change and although the prospect of playing Germany in the semi-final again may not be ideal, it will be irrelevant if they don’t get past Italy.
For once, the pressure isn’t on England to perform this Sunday evening. The fact they have made it this far has surpassed most people’s expectations, so any victory from this point will be seen as a bonus.
Having began the tournament with a respectable 1-1 draw against a French side that went into the competition with high expectations, England followed this with 2 wins, albeit by the skin of their teeth, against Sweden and the Ukraine to finish top of the group.
One of the key factors to England’s progression in the tournament is Steven Gerrad; his status as captain is long overdue and is already starting to pay dividends. With three assists so far this tournament, as well as being the man of the match against the Ukraine, it’s clear that he has taken well to his role.
Another man who will need a big performance tonight is Scott Parker. The Spurs player has really come into his own this year and will need a good performance if England are to contain the likes of de Rossi and Marchisio.
Italy’s start to Euro 2012 was very good as they held pre-tournament favourites Spain to a draw. However, a draw against Croatia who were more than a match for them and a 2-0 victory over an Ireland team who gave them one or two scares in the second half has shown that Italy too, are vulnerable and nowhere near the team that triumphed in the 2006 world cup final.
Mario Balotelli may be the player on everyone’s mind, but he is not the one to look out for in this game. Whilst the media have tried to hype the Parker-Balotelli connection and to some extent suggest that to beat Italy, one must beat the Manchester city headline-making prima donna, this should not be at the forefront of the English player’s minds.
While capable of turning a game and scoring some great goals, Balotelli is as likely to self destruct and end up with an early bath as he is to score, and with this knowledge being firmly in the minds of Terry and co in defence you can expect more than a little niggling in that department.
If Italy are going to win this match, then it’s essential that Andrea Pirlo has a good game; capable of great goals, excellent passing and controlling the midfield, he is the one to watch. He is also far more stable than Balotelli and less likely to be put off his game if Italy are struggling. His free kick against Croatia is a perfect example of what he is capable of. He was also instrumental in Juventus’ Serie A triumph this year and if given the opportunity, will take control of this fixture.
I don’t expect the most exciting game of the tournament tonight and although the Gerrad Pirlo battle could be intriguing, this game could easily go to 90 minutes without a goal having been scored. My instinct tells me that England will sneak this tonight though it’s not going to be easy as this could go all the way.
My prediction – England 1-0 Italy (AET).