England v Italy
Sunday 24th June 7.45pm
England meet Italy on Sunday in the last of the quarter-finals and this is possibly the most evenly matched of all the ties. England clinched their place with a 1-0 victory over Ukraine, the winner being bundled home by the returning Wayne Rooney. They came to this tournament under something of a cloud having installed Roy Hodgson in charge following the surprise resignation of Fabio Capello and by topping their group they have probably fulfilled their expectations.
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The French were their first opponents and England grabbed the initiative when taking a lead through Lescott. Nasri fired home a leveller for the French but England saw out the game to take a valuable point. They tested the nerves of their supporters with a pulsating 3-2 victory over Sweden in their second game. When they dropped 2-1 behind it looked ominous but the introduction of Theo Walcott inspired a late revival. Surprisingly he was not given a start against Ukraine and they did put up a fairly pedestrian performance. Indeed, had it not been for a poor decision by the officials, the Ukraine would have achieved a draw when John Terry hooked a ball back from beyond the line.
The biggest problem for Hodgson may be deciding how to approach the Italian game. The Spanish started in a 4-6-0 formation against Italy in their opening group fixture and that played right into the Italians hands. England have looked strongest when adopting an attacking formation and have several options with Rooney, Carroll, Welbeck and Walcott all available.
The Italians progress in the tournament has been true to form, steady if unspectacular. They grabbed a point against the holders in their opening game but could not build on that when only drawing against Croatia at Poznan’s Municipal Stadium. Andrea Pirlo scored a spectacular free-kick to put the Italians ahead but they were pegged back by an equaliser from Mario Mandzukic. They held off a determined Croatian side for the last twenty minutes to set themselves the task of defeating the Republic of Ireland to secure their quarter-final place.
They were made to work harder than they may have expected against the Irish, only sealing a 2-0 victory with Mario Balotelli’s spectacular late goal. The bookmakers cannot split the two sides and BetVictor offer 7-4 each of two with 2-1 the draw. Wayne Rooney is a top-priced 6-1 with Bet365 to open the scoring but the same firm offer only 5-1 against a 0-0 stalemate. It promises to be a closely fought encounter with extra-time and penalties even a possibility.