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Euro 2012 quarter-final preview: England v Italy

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 23 Jun 2012

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England and Italy will contest their first competitive fixture for 15 years in the last quarter-final of Euro 2012 on Sunday.

Roy Hodgson’s England defied gloomy pre-tournament predictions to top Group D and avoid an early meeting with holders Spain in the last eight.

They kicked off their campaign in Poland and Ukraine with a somewhat fortunate 1-1 draw against France.

That was followed by a rollercoaster 3-2 victory over Sweden, in which England took the lead, fell behind, and then rallied to take all three points, thanks to goals from Andy Carroll, Danny Welbeck and substitute Theo Walcott.

They were outclassed for long periods of their final Group D match against Ukraine, who were desperate for victory to continue their participation in the tournament on home soil.

But a lone Wayne Rooney strike and huge slice of good fortunate – with Ukraine denied a legitimate goal despite putting the ball over the line – saw Hodgson’s men emerge 1-0 winners from the match at the Donbass Arena, Donetsk.

Italy meanwhile earned a valuable point with a 1-1 draw against world and European champions Spain in their first match of the tournament.

They surrendered the lead to draw with an impressive Croatia by the same scoreline in their second match of Group C, before beating Ireland 2-0 to finish as runners-up behind Spain.

While Cesare Prandelli’s side are yet to hit any great heights at Euro 2012, they have improved markedly on their dismissal showing as defending champions at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where they surrendered their crown after failing to escape a group containing New Zealand, Slovakia and Paraguay.

On Sunday the two countries clash in competitive action for the first time since October 1997, when England held Italy to a 0-0 draw at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome, in a qualifying match for the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

Expect Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, who returned from suspension in the match against Ukraine, to start again for England at the Olympic Stadium, Kiev.

He will be partnered by either club team-mate Welbeck or Liverpool centre-forward Carroll.

Ashley Young and James Milner have yet to impress, but Hodgson is likely to keep faith with the pair ahead of the more unpredictable Arsenal duo of Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

In attack for Italy, Prandelli must choose between Udinese veteran Antonio Di Natale, AC Milan’s Antonio Cassano or Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli, who would be up against club colleagues Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and Milner.

Centre-back Giorgio Chiellini will miss out for Italy with a thigh problem, and is likely to be replaced by Juventus team-mate Leonardo Bonucci.

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