Strangely at major international tournaments, there have not been many matches between England and Italy. Indeed, in recent memory, only the third-place playoff at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, with the hosts winning through Toto Schillaci and Roberto Baggio and Euro ’80 in Turin, which saw another Azzurri victory as Marco Tardelli scored, stand out.
Now at Euro 2012 another chapter will be written. Traditionally Italy have played the defensive football in contrast to a more attacking English game – that was the pattern when Italy won at Wembley in 1997 in a World Cup qualifier, thanks to a sublime goal from Gianfranco Zola.
At Euro 2012, Cesare Prandelli’s men have had an attacking approach, with a 3-5-2 or a 4-3-1-2 system, but in both formations, the Azzurri played aggressive football and enjoyed a good percentage of ball possession (51%). England set up in a classic 4-4-2, the midfield providing good protection for the defence and ball possession of just 23% with hitting teams on the counter attack the plan. Despite this though, England scored more goals than Italy in the group stage (five to four).
We look at the key battles which will decide the Euro 2012 quarter-final between England and Italy:
John Terry and Joleon Lescott vs Mario Balotelli
England struggled in the centre of defence against Sweden and Ukraine when Scott Parker was unable to protect Terry and Lescott. That much was clear when Ukraine scored their “ghost goal” against England and with Olof Mellberg’s strike. The two centre backs require a shield from midfield and in the space in front of them, Balotelli can be dangerous. The Manchester City man is a more physical player than Antonio De Natale and Antonio Cassano and can create problems for Terry and Lescott. Balotelli is unpredictable too, although club team-mate Lescott should have an idea of the runs he is likely to make.
Steven Gerrard vs Andrea Pirlo
Arguably the two most talented players in each team. Gerrard helps defensively but is also a vital link up to England’s attacking line, having provided perfectly weighted balls for goals netted by Andy Carroll and Wayne Rooney. The Three Lions captain is capable of doing damage between the lines of the Italian defence and midfield. Pirlo meanwhile was in top form against Spain and Croatia, dictating from the midfield in both games. Prandelli must decide whether to play Pirlo in his usual role as a “regista” or behind Balotelli and Cassano. Both England and Italy will have plans to stop Gerrard and Pirlo.
Ashley Young vs Christian Maggio
Young has been a key figure in all England’s Euro 2012 matches so far, operating well in support of the side’s attack and also aiding the defence. While the Manchester United man is often not clinical in front of goal, he does much work for the team and is on the same wavelength as club team-mates Rooney and Danny Welbeck. Against Italy, Young will come up against Christian Maggio and the battle could be crucial. Prandelli may decide that Maggio, who is better defensively than in attack, should be swapped for Ignazio Abate, but the Milan man is also more defensively-minded. The flank should see Maggio surging forward and trying to push Young back.
Wayne Rooney vs Andrea Barzagli
The likelihood is that Prandelli will choose to go with a back four to counteract Rooney, who looked in good form against Ukraine. For this, Barzagli is the ideal pick, as in his sole run-out so far, against Ireland, the defender was excellent against Kevin Doyle and Robbie Keane. In this clash Barzagli must stop a world class player, although he will have help from Leonardo Bonucci and this could help the Juventus defender to succeed. Rooney, along with Welbeck or Carroll, will look to get behind the Italian defence and try to get on the end of any well-delivered set-pieces from Gerrard or James Milner. Italy are vulnerable from set-pieces and those moments could be key.
Read England vs Italy Match Preview here.
Read more: England v Italy Betting Focus.