England v Italy Preview
With expectations rock bottom going into the tournament; England are already in a better position than many expected. They wouldn’t qualify? Well they did. They wouldn’t win the group? Wrong again. From here on out England will face the elite of the elite. One step at a time. First up Italy.
England’s quarter final with Italy on Sunday will be do or die. The Italians are coming off yet another corruption scandal dominating their football, but it looks like they may be beginning to click.
Granted their last opponent was Ireland - a team who sadly earned the whipping boy moniker of this year’s competition - but Italy, in their 2-0 victory, did what was necessary to progress. This despite the Italian press obsessed with the idea of a possible conspiracy between Spain and Croatia to engineer a 2-2 draw and therefore knock out the Azzurri.
The irony of the Italians suspecting match fixing in others was perhaps lost on them.
England and Italy, despite being two of the power houses of European football, rarely meet each other in competition. They played in the 3rd/ 4th place playoff at Italia 90. The year of Gazza’s flowing tears; the year that reignited Britain’s love affair with football after the dark 80s. They also met at Euro 80. England lost on both occasions.
Their last competitive match was in 1997 when Glenn Hoddle’s England needed a point in Rome to qualify for the France 98 World Cup. Miraculously they went to the Roman fortress and got the point they required.
Good Omens: Roy Hodgson was part of the England set up for that game, acting as Hoddle’s interpreter - Roy had learned Italian in a stint in Italy as manager of Internazionale.
Hodgson’s main headache will come in the decision to start James Milner or Theo Walcott. Walcott has been used as an impact substitute. He has been effective after being introduced late in games. Wayne Rooney’s position appears sacrosanct. His poacher’s goal in his first start against Ukraine only confirmed that. Hodgson must decide if Danny Welbeck’s pace or Andy Carroll’s aerial threat is more appropriate to the particular challenges posed by the defensive Azzurri.
One other note. John Terry’s performance against Ukraine - including never giving up on the goal that never was, but definitely was - may be the first hint of a public changing their mind on the villain of the 2011/2012 season. More performances like that and neutrals may gain a grudging respect. Or maybe not.
England face a stern test in Italy but expectations are starting to rise.
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