Kiev, 19.45pm, Sunday 24th June 2012
UEFA European Championships Quarter Finals
Roy Hodgson's men have so far exceeded all expectations by topping Group D ahead of France, following a 1-0 win in their final game against Ukraine, which subsequently sent the co-hosts out of their own competition, that coincided with the end of France's 23 match unbeaten run ended in a 2-0 defeat to already-eliminated Sweden. After 2 wins and a draw, optimism is steadily growing with more and more believing England have what it takes to progress even further, especially as they have avoided a Quarter Final clash with Spain. Instead, England face a tough, yet winnable game against the Italians.
The new England boss has several selection headaches ahead of the Quarter Final, with all of England's front-men staking a strong case for selection in what could be one of the biggest games of their careers to date. Following the fantastic strikes of both Carroll and Welbeck against the Swedes, and Rooney's crucial finish - later described by Steven Gerrard as a 'tap-in' - all of England's forwards have a goal to their name. I get a feeling that Hodgson won't be too upset to be having to make such tough decisions though. Other problems he may face is whether he continues to run with James Milner on the right of midfield, or whether to opt fot he more pacey Walcott - so devastating against Sweden following his introduction, but less influential against Ukraine. One thing's for sure, the Italian side is very experienced, so a faster tempo may be the way to approach the game. Following a reasonably robust defensive performance against the co-hosts on Tuesday night, Johnson, Terry, Lescott and Cole look set to start once again as 'Hart's last line of defence'.
The Italians failed to top their group, however following an opening 1-1 draw with current European and World Champions Spain, before being held to a 1-1 draw against Croatia, went on to seal their place in the last eight with victory over the already-eliminated Republic of Ireland. Whilst posing plenty of attacking threats going forward, in the forms of Cassano, Di Natale, the ever-controversial Mario Balotelli, in addition to a midfield controlled by the likes of set-piece specialist Andrea Pirlo, they have had weaknesses exposed. Twice from leading positions in the tournament, they have gone on from leading positions to drop points. So should England fall behind in Kiev, it will be an interesting test of character to see if they have overcome such incidents that haunted them against Spain and Croatia. Though I get the feeling Roy Hodgson's men will have no intention of going behind!
It looks set to be a tense affair on Sunday night with two teams set out looking not to give a lot away, and it could well be a game with few goals on offer whereby defence may seem the best form of attack for Hodgson and Azzuri boss Prandelli.
England Starting XI vs Ukraine (W 1-0):
Johnson - Terry - Lescott - Cole
Milner - Gerrard - Parker - Young
Rooney - Welbeck
Subs used: Walcott, Carrol, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Italy Starting XI vs Republic of Ireland (W 2-0):
Abate - Barzagli - Chiellini - Balzaretti
Pirlo - Marchisio - Motta - De Rossi
Cassano - Di Natale
Subs used: Bonucci, Diamanti, Balotelli
I believe this one will be a closely fought affair with the English to progress to the semi-finals After Extra Time, England 2-1 Italy
At the Bookies:
England Win @ 7/4
Draw @ 21/10
Italy Win @ 13/8
(Odds courtesy of www.williamhill.com)