It is an exciting time for English football at the moment. The fans are behind the team and Roy Hodgson in numbers and there seems to be a great spirit within the camp. After surprising a few and topping their group, England were rewarded with the easier quarter-final tie, taking on Italy in Kiev.
England have done what they needed to do; see off the French and grab two results against Sweden and Ukraine. Roy Hodgson has implemented his defensive manner that he showed at Fulham into the national side. Although the football has been boring at times, we can’t fault Roy as he has got the job done.
What has impressed me so far with England is their success at both ends of the field. The back 4 have gelled together remarkably well and have been tough to break down over the course of the tournament. The midfield and strike force have shown creativity to create dangerous opportunities on goal, and the impact players such as Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlaid-Chamberlain have been used to great effect.
What stands in front of England and a semi-final battle with the Germans? A pumped up Italian side that caused Spain all sorts of problems in their first group game. They ended up finishing second in their group with 5 points after defeating Ireland and drawing with Spain and Croatia.
Italy and England are 2 very similar outfits. They have solid defences, a midfield leader and an elite striker in their armoury. The battle between Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo will be pivotal in the outcome of the game. Gerrard and Parker need to command the midfield to provide a solid platform for the strikers to work from.
The fact that Wayne Rooney played almost 90 minutes against Ukraine despite having a poor game suggests that he will get the start against Italy. I expect the all-united strike force in Welbeck and Rooney, with Andy Carroll coming on late in the game. I also expect Mario Balotelli to be given the start for the Italians. He will keep chipping away at the English back 4 to try and spark a reaction as well as mistakes.
My predicted starting line-ups:
As far as the stats are concerned the Three Lions have managed just one win from their last nine games against Italy (D2, L6).Their last clash saw them lose a friendly in Leeds 2-1 in March 2002.
They have met at European Championship finals just once before, with Italy winning a group game in 1980 1-0.
Italy also have the better form when it comes to quarter-final encounters in major championships. They have only been knocked out two of the nine occasions that they have reached this stage – both times on penalty kicks. That’s much better than England who have lost 7 out of 10 when playing in the last stage of the competition.
However on current form there is little to choose between the two sides in what is likely to be a low-scoring affair. Both base their play around having a strong defence, and in it would be no surprise to see what promises to be a real tactical battle go into extra time.
I think that this game will definitely be a low scorer. I am going to give England a 1-0 victory through a Danny Welbeck goal and a solid defensive performance.