For some reason, England are considered the slight favorites by the odd-makers before their quarterfinals match with Italy. Despite that it’s England, who have lost all their quarterfinals except for three times (1966, 1990, 1996) in big tournaments, and haven’t beaten a big time team (World Cup Champion) in a tourney since 1966.
Italy weren’t all that bad in the group stage. They laid out the groundwork and plans of how to stop Spain, being the only teams thus far to score a goal against Iker Casillas. Playing with six midfielders helps, but it’s really hard scoring against a rock hard Italian defense. They played a good match against Croatia for 60 minutes and a good enough game against Ireland. I was actually surprised they made it through the group stage.
Italy rely on one of their midfielders, usually Thiago Motta, keeping a very close eye on the opponents’ playmaker. In Spain, there’s more than one, so it was easier just blocking the box. With Croatia, it worked really well for an hour or so with Luka Modric unable to touch the ball or do anything significant with it when he did have it. With England, there’s no real playmaker. Steven Gerrard, with 3 assists so far in the tournament, is sort of in charge of the offensive game, but there’s no real organized and planned out ball movement.
It’s moving the ball quickly and crossing it to Welbeck/Rooney as soon as possible. From the wings or from the center, with Gerrard providing the accuracy and the touch. If the ball goes through the left, you’re more likely to see an attempted passing combination between the three Manchester United player. Defensively, it’ll be about the two straight lines of 4 players, which has worked pretty well so far, relying on a lot of men putting their bodies on the line to stop shots instead of preventing teams from taking them.
Two teams who don’t like to initiate things, it’ll be interesting to see who takes on the roll of the dominatrix in this quarter final. Roy Hodgson insisted that England will play their regular game. That means it’ll be very closed to start with, long balls as expected, with a mixture of quick passing when the rare chance of a counter is offered. If any of the teams score an early goal, expect them to fall back and defend the trenches.
Prediction – If there’s any match that can end 0-0, it’s this one. Just like the one England are so proud of from 15 years ago in Rome. Don’t be surprised to see penalty kicks as well. In an almost too close to call match, I’ll give the edge to England by a nose.