There’s something missing – Romance or drama, maybe an element of each. The group stages brought plenty of both. The quarterfinals to date have been functional, expected and frankly a little flat in hungry chunks. Up step England. Up step Italy. Bring the drama. Give the tournament its heartbeat back.
Both sides have kept relatively low profiles.
It’s hard to remember a less heralded English team enter a tournament. Recessionary pressures and an apparently uninviting journey to Ukraine have kept English supporters to a minimum. Their reception and behaviour though has all been positive. Are we now falling for the same neighbour whose blustering entrance onto the main stage used to cause such ill-will. Have they turned our heads over the garden wall and drawn a smile?
Italy have gone about their qualification in an effective, solid manner. Most impressive, their stifling of Spain and prowess through Andrea Pirlo. They almost made us believe Spain weren’t all encompassing. Thanks for that.
England should make no changes from the victory over Ukraine. It’s unlikely Roy Hodgson will drop James Milner or Ashley Young. Young did take a knock to his shin in Tuesday’s match but should be fit. Despite Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott’s being in smarter form they will have to settle for the bench. Do expect to see them though if Milner and Young, as you might expect, get nothing from the uncompromising Italian’s. Chamberlain and Walcott are better equipped to create space behind the probable use of Italian wingbacks.
Danny Wellbeck and Wayne Rooney will start and the defence will be unchanged.
The Italian defence though will be though, after Giorgio Chiellini limped off against Ireland and should be replaced by Juventus teammate Leonardo Bonucci. Chiellini’s absence though will be a blow, so solid his performances have been.
Italy will most likely play a 3-5-2 formation with Pirlo licensed to roam from the back and endeavour to eat into the English defence with his incisive passing. Balotelli might have to settle again for a cameo appearance despite his fine late strike against Ireland. Cesare Prandelli should stick with Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale.
Roy Hodgsons links to Italian football and a reflection in style are not quite tenuous but still a little overstated. This English team should set out rigidly and with some caution but will look to create. Wayne Rooneys strong comeback is encouraging but Steven Gerrards robust performance against Ukraine is what encourages most. His passing and crossing has been accurate and menacing. This could be his day.
Penaltys have been mentioned ad nauseam. If you haven’t read the Story of Joe Harts previous penalty drama with England’s Under 21’s by now well; actually no, you’re lucky. If they happen, both teams have catalogued how well prepared they are. But ultimately it will mean heartbreak for one side.
Let’s hope it’s not England. Even if it’s simply for the fact that it’s one thing flirting with your neighbour. It’s another thing having to live beside them for another two years at least, with a resigned expression of indelible pain etched on their faces.
Come on England. Come on Italy. Give us back the drama. Give us back the romance. We need it
Prediction: 1-1 with England, yes England, to win on penalties.