Sunday 24th June – England versus Italy – Venue: Olympic Stadium, Kiev Kick-off: 19:45 BST – Televised on BBC One with Highlights on ITV
This match preview is a guest post brought to you by the brilliant Matthew Broadley, you can check out his blog over at http://broadley-speaking.blogspot.co.uk/
After all the upheaval coming into the tournament, England have surprised everyone, probably including themselves with how well they done thus far. Like most of the Roy Hodgson’s teams they are very disciplined and as a result are hard to break down, Steven Gerrard is a great example of this as he is often criticised for his Roy of the Rovers style play, we have seen much more intelligent performances from him so far. This instilled discipline can be seen in the group games against France and Ukraine specifically, the majority of shots at Joe Hart’s goal were from long range, a testament to their solidity. That isn’t to say that England have been outstanding, they have struggled to retain possession, often giving the ball away sloppily, something they will need to fix as they face a strong Italian team. The return of Wayne Rooney will obviously be a boost; he will add the much needed craft to the team, something that Ashley Young largely failed to provide in the opening two games. England’s bench offers some decent impact substitutes, the pace of Walcott can trouble tired defenders, and if they need to go direct Andy Carroll has proved himself a great target man with a stunning header and decent all round display against Sweden.
Speaking of upheaval, Italy too have had their fair share with another match fixing scandal breaking in the run up to the tournament. The last time this happened in 2006 before a major tournament was the year Italy went on to lift the World Cup, if that means anything at all. Italy have been very impressive in the group games, their 3-5-2 against Spain was a particular highlight, with Daniel De Rossi outstanding in the largely defunct ‘libero’ position. The worry of that formation is perhaps the tiring of the wing backs who both have to put in a lot of work providing width when attacking, and also cover when out of possession, so it will be interesting to see how they cope. Mario Balotelli could be key to Italy’s chances, having scored a sumptuous overhead kick against Ireland his confidence should be high, with Di Natale perhaps more useful as an impact sub, we are likely to see Super Mario starting eleven once more. This game is quite hard to call, and it looks to invert the stereotypes of these two nations, expect Italy to have most of the ball and England to be the ones sitting back looking to counter attack when possible. The game will be close but I feel Italy’s greater all round quality will win out.
Predicted result: England 0-1 Italy