Italy Euro 2012 Focus – England approach familiar to Azzurri

Italy meet England in their Euro 2012 quarter-final having escaped from group C after fears of a fix between Spain and Croatia proved unfounded. The third team the Azzurri faced in the early-going, the Republic of Ireland, would on paper appear a decent facsimile for England, but is that really the case?

 All but three of the 23-man squad named by Giovanni Trapattoni play their football in England – only Robbie Keane, at the LA Galaxy, Spartak Moscow’s Aiden McGeady and Darren O’Dea of Celtic call elsewhere home – and the vast majority of Keane’s career has been spent in England, while O’Dea was on loan in the Championship throughout last season.

Not only that but the formations employed by the respective nations and their managers – Giovanni Trapattoni for Ireland, Roy Hodgson for England – are rife with similarities. Both usually favour a 4-4-2 with the two central midfielders acting as screens for the defence, although for England Steven Gerrard has a little more freedom than his Irish counterparts. And the countries even score goals in similar ways – Ireland’s only effort of Euro 2012 came from a set-piece, while all but two of England’s goals have come from a cross, corner or free-kick.

Yet perhaps Italy should look a little closer to home than Ireland for a read on how England will approach the quarter-final. It has been said that under Hodgson England are arch-pragmatists, playing to their strengths and caring little about the quality of football on show or the excitement of the match, all qualities that would resonate with Italy sides of years past. Yahoo Sports went so far as to describe England as “more Italian than the Italy team,” a sign equal parts of how greatly Italy have changed under Cesare Prandelli and where exactly England’s priorities lie under Hodgson.

If what Yahoo wrote about England’s similarity with old-Italy tactics rings true, it must be especially the case for Ireland under the doyen of calcio, Trapattoni, and Italy overcame the Irish with little fuss in the end. That is not to say England are of the same mediocrity as Ireland, however. England are superior to Ireland in every area and in Wayne Rooney Hodgson can call on a player of genuine world-class ability, but the basic framework is the same. How Italy handle Rooney will do much to determine their success in the contest.

Do Italy have a player capable of keeping the Manchester United striker on a short leash? Or even a player of their own able to inspire in the same way as Rooney or Gerrard? Andrea Pirlo has been one of the standout players of the competition thus far and Mario Balotelli carries himself like he belongs in the latter stages of the tournament, and both will have a heavy say on the direction of the fixture. Can Pirlo eke out another performance after a taxing season at Juventus? Will Balotelli deliver what he so often promises? Germany wait if they can.

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