23rd June 2012
England may have avoided Spain by winning the first place in Group D, but there are no guarantees a clash with Italy will be any less demanding for Roy Hodgson’s side. The Azzurri appear to be on top of their game at the moment, and they seem to have forgotten all about the match-fixing scandal that hindered their preparations for the tournament finals.
The Three Lions have had their work cut out for them after Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill had pulled out of the squad because of injury, but narrow victories over Norway and Belgium in final warm-up games hinted England might just do well under Roy Hodgson at the European Championship. The Three Lions exceeded all expectations by taking 7 points from 3 group games and thus avoided the meeting with Spain in the quarter-finals, but in-form Italy could prove too much for them unless they improve on their showings from the group stage. Relying mostly on defensive organization and swift counterattacks, England managed to keep their results respectable, but having been on the back foot in every one of their Euro 2012 matches, the Three Lions don’t have much reason for optimism going into the Italy game. The Azzurri are more than capable of taking advantage of England’s defensive frailties, while their back line will not allow easy goals like the ones the Three Lions have scored in group stage.
Italy were virtually written off after the match fixing scandal was followed by the 3-0 defeat to Russia in their final warm-up game, but people seem to have forgotten that the Azzurri tend to play their best football when nobody expects them to. Cesare Prandelli’s side, much more attack-minded than previous Italy teams, immediately hit the ground running, playing some great football against Spain and Croatia, although they couldn’t turn their dominance into goals and had to settle for two straight 1-1 draws. The comfortable victory over Republic of Ireland made sure the Italians progress into the next stage and judging by their latest performances, the Azzurri have got to be considered favourites to go through. The team have gained a lot with the introduction of Ignazio Abate and Federico Balzaretti, who are providing the side with much needed width, and the two full-backs give the likes of Pirlo, De Rossi and Marchisio extra options in attack. With Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano on top of their game at the moment, Italy look a good bet to make it through to the semis, even with Giorgio Chiellini missing out through injury.
England have done well to reach the European Championship quarter-finals, but this looks like the end of the road for the Three Lions. Italy have been very convincing at Euro 2012 and they seem to have what it takes to possibly go all the way. Back Italy to qualify for the semis.
Verdict: Italy to qualify
Best Odds: 1/1