After entering the tournament under the lowest expectations in living memory, England now sit three victories away from creating history. Predictably the media are now dusting off the hype machine and cranking that baby up to 11, (do you think they’ll ever learn). The hype around the national team always puzzled me, but after 3 fairly average performances were the bear minimum was done by the team I can’t understand why England are all of a sudden contenders. There is talk of a togetherness, Unity, playing for each other, out to prove something, an optimism in the camp. Jamie Carragher articulated my thoughts perfectly on ITV when he said that’s easy to manufacture when things are going right for your team, not so easy when it gets difficult. Don’t be naïve in thinking this team all of sudden has no internal issues, we are still living under the shadow of Rio remember.
I don’t think England can Win the tournament (the have to play the Germans for Christ sake) but I do think they can beat the Italians tonight. Here’s how..
A lot has been said about Balotelli (mostly by himself) but for every moment of genius there is a moment of madness. England have footballers who can wind a player like Bibotelli up, not that it would take a huge amount of pushing. John Terry is a master at playing the game at the edge of the rules and could rub Super Mario the wrong way. A red card here would certainly help ease them through the proceedings tonight.
Italy are without their star centre back Chellini and there are serious doubts over holding midfielder Thiago Motta whereas England have a full complement to choose from. I would say that both teams are fairly equal so with the margins being that tight, losing two key players could tip the balance in England’s favour.
Out for the first 2 games, thanks to a stupid kick out during qualifying, rusty around the edges against the Ukraine. You would be forgiven for not looking to the Talismanic Striker for any hope tonight, but you would be very wrong. I watched over 40 games last season featuring ‘the weave’ and for a large portion of the season he was largely ineffectual for most of games yet scored a ridiculous amount of goals. That has been the main theme for most of the season and I saw the same against the Ukraine. If players like Gerrard can get the ball in dangerous positions, regardless of form Wayne will stick them away.
One similarity between this Italian side and the one that triumphed in 2006 is that they have Andrea Pirlo at the heart of it. And despite being in the twilight of his career at the age of 33, he has continued his excellent form from his season at Juventus, guiding them to an unbeaten season and a much coveted 28th Scudetto title. Steven Gerrard will be up against Pirlo in the middle of the park and he is enjoying an unexpectedly excellent tournament, racking up three assists from some incisive passing and dangerous crossing. Pirlo will be sitting deep in the Italian midfield and will look to dictate play from there. Gerrard will be tasked with getting close to Pirlo and to stop him controlling the tempo of the game. The Liverpool man must also look to escape Pirlo’s attentions when he breaks forward from midfield. Both also offer excellent deliveries from set pieces. I feel the winner of this battle will be on the triumphant side. Both players have the capacity to inspire and push their teams forward in a way that the others around them cant. Successfully frustrating Pirlo will cull the majority of the Italian threat going forward. I imagine Roy will have his players well drilled in this respect.
Many are billing this game as possibly the most defensive and boring match of what has been an exciting tournament so far. I actually think this game has got lots of little battles all over the park which will conspire to make this an interesting matchup. Let’s just hope for England’s sake we don’t get to penalties nobody wants that