Humble English are slight favourites against Italy

Last Updated: Wed, Jun 27, 2012 12:21 hrs

​The quarterfinal rounds of the European Championships have already sent home the unexpected overachievers, Greece and the Czech Republic. Their defeats demonstrated that only the truly gifted, offensively talented teams will make it to the championship semi-finals. Superman Cristiano Ronaldo pierced the heavily defended Czech trenches with a lightning header.

The German coach Lowe could afford the luxury of leaving three of his best strikers on the bench, Gomez, Podolski and Muller and still easily defeat the less than heroic Greek team 4-2.The German team has been both enjoyable and dominant, playing with flair and talent. They await the winner of the England vs Italy match like a tiger waits for an errant gazelle.

The last quarterfinal match between England and Italy is the most uncertain. The English invented football. The English railroad workers who travelled around the empire brought a cricket mallet and a football with them  to pass their idle times in Buenos Aires or Bombay. The local boys picked up the habit.

Genoa football and cricket club, founded by the English, was one of the first football clubs founded in Italy and still exists. But like with noodles, the Italians adopted the concept, added defense and imagination, and have been more successful internationally than the English. The Italian "Azzurri " have won four World  Cups and one European championships.

The English "Lions" true underachievers internationally, have only won one World Cup at home in 1966 led by legendary Bobby Charlton. For England to advance to the semi-finals would be a validation of their talented players Rooney, Milner, Gerrard and John Terry and their superior club league structure. The Italians will have to rely on their talented players Pirlo, Cassano, Buffon and De Rossi to reach an unexpected semi-final.

Roy Hodgson, only recently installed as coach of the Lions had his work simplified when Chelsea's Lampard withdrew with an injury. This allowed him to give the keys to the English team to Liverpool’s Gerrard who has stepped up to the plate with character and intelligence. Up front, Hodgson has a rested superstar in Wayne Rooney, super substitute Andy Carroll and young speedster Welbeck.

Assisting Gerrard in midfield are very talented Milner of Manchester City on the right, indefatigable Scott Parker and Ashley Young on the left. The solid backline of the Lions features Johnson on the right, John Terry, Lescott and Cole on the left. For once England has a very reliable young goalkeeper in Joe Hart.

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This is a comfortable English team, experienced and yet with explosive firepower up front. For once little was expected of them at the outset and Ray Hodgson may yet surprise the skeptical English press and England’s own supporters.

The Italian team played well against Spain, not so well against Croatia, and managed a nervous win over Ireland. Typically Italy has relied on their defense, led by captain Buffon in goal. But with Chiellini injured, Coach Prandelli will have to start Palermo's Balzaretti on the left, Juve's Bonucci and Barzagli in the middle, and Milan' Abate on the right, all very capable and experienced defenders.

In offence Super Mario Balotelli and Cassano, who both scored against Ireland, have talent to burn and will try to surprise the English defense. In midfield, Italy's best player, Andrea Pirlo has been superb. Like an orchestra director every ball goes to him and he distributes it with flair and intelligence. Aided by Marchisio, De Rossi and Thiago Motta, Pirlo will dictate Italy fortunes.

There will be seveal key individual battles to watch in this crucial and exciting match. Will Mario Balotelli, assisted by Cassano be able to get through his Man City  teammate Lescott and John Terry? Will De Rossi be able to stop Milner's right wing crosses? Will Wayne Rooney devastate Barzagli and Bonucci? Which general will play better to lead his team to victory, Andrea Pirlo or Steven Gerrard?

There are some world class players on the pitch in Kiev, on Sunday night whose performance will determine the victory. The English are slightly favoured because they appear concentrated and humble for once, but never
understimate the Azzurri, who like in 1982 against us Argentines changed their fortunes suddenly to win the World Cup in Spain.

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