England vs Italy - Match preview and team news
The final piece of the semi-final puzzle will fall into place tonight after England and Italy fight for a place in the last four. Awaiting the winner is a date with joint tournament favourites Germany, after they beat Greece 4-2 on Friday night. But neither team will be looking too far ahead, both have strong credentials coming into the game and have very similar styles. England have qualified using a defensive mind set whilst Italy – famed for their defending prowess – have got to this stage thanks to a dogged determination.
The Italians managed to win just one of their group games – the final one 2-0 against Ireland – but two draws against Spain and Croatia along with that victory was enough to see them through. Unsurprisingly in their opening game against the Spanish the Azzuri had very little possession but showed a great strength in the their counter attacking style, managing the same amount of shots on target as their opponents – 6 – despite only having 34% of the ball.
However, this counter attacking style didn’t help them against the Croats in game two. The Italians saw more possession but failed to capitalize, only scoring from a dead ball situation thanks to free kick maestro Andrea Pirlo. Once again they shared the shots on target, this time 5, despite having a stronger hold on the game. Against Ireland they dominated the game, but managed to only convert 2 of their 26 goal attempts, 7 of which were on target. So far they have failed to show a clinical touch in front of goal, but they do possess world-class strikers in Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale – all who have a goal each so far.
Not converting possession into goals is something that Italy will need to change in the quarter-final if any of England’s group games are something to go by. So far in the championship the Three Lions have never ended a game with positive possession stats but have won twice and drawn once with France. Against co-hosts Ukraine they saw 43% of the ball and won 1-0, against Sweden they split the possession 50/50 and won 3-2 and against the French they were dominated 65% to 35% but secured a draw after taking the lead.
The English seem to be confident playing without the ball and creating chances from very little – something which they have been heavily criticized for not doing in the past. Despite these unimpressive possession stats they have created plenty of chances which have helped them top their group, coming out of the first stage with 31 attempts with 10 on target and 5 hitting the back of the net. The Italians could find themselves having a taste of their own medicine, after years of playing a similar style to very strong effect.
England are expected to name the same side that beat Ukraine on Tuesday, with Welbeck expected to partner Wayne Rooney once again. Italy will be without Giorgio Chiellini who is missing after picking up a thigh injury in the 2-0 against the Irish last week. As yet there is no word on his replacement.
These two have plenty of history against each other, meeting 22 times over the years. Italy have won 9 of those matches, England 7 and a draw on 6 occasions. The last time they met at the European Championships in 1980, Italy won 1-0. This game could produce a tactical master class or we could see two defensive sides waiting for the other to kick the ball. Either way, Germany awaits the winner.
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