England v Italy, 19:45
Just like the contest with France, this is a game that is not easy to call as the two sides are farily well-matched. There is always going to be a pessimistic section of the English public, ready to bash the team and their chances, or point out a perceived advantage for the opposition, but in reality we have a decent chance of making the semi-final, if everything goes right. We have our own talismanic, unpredictable striker in Wayne Rooneys, our own mercurial playmaker in Steven Gerrard, and even a world-class keeper after years of also-rans.
It was widely reported that the Italy coach Cesere Prandelli went for a long walk to a monastery after the Italian qualified for the knockout stages, and with any luck the England management would have doing something useful during that time. This team Prandelli is building definitely has some potential to improve, but once again the midfield is where the battle will be won and lost, and that makes Andrea Pirlo the most crucial man on the field. Scot Parker is hardly underworked in the tournament up until now, but I guess Hodgson is working on the reasoning that if you need a job done, give it to someone already busy.
Parker will need to be closely watched, as will Steven Gerrard, as the two men have shown signs of fatigue already. The Liverpool and England captain has spoken about the dangers of being overrun in the middle of the park, and you get the impression he’d quite like Hodgson to give him some help in there, but if the manager goes with a 4-4-2 again it’ll be a case of relying on the two central midfielders have a perfect, committed game.
England are expected to be unchanged for Sunday’s Euro 2012 quarter-final against Italy in Kiev, with Roy Hodgson likely to play Danny Welbeck with Wayne Rooney, leaving Walcott and Carroll on the bench. For the Italians an ongoing defensive problem has taken a twist, with one half of the Juventus defence recovering from injury just as the other succumbs. Andrea Barzagli missed the first two games, but was brought to play with Giorgio Chiellini due to the brilliance of their play together at club level, but it’s Chiellini who will miss this game with a thigh injury picked up against Ireland.
The odds are about even, both teams rated at roughly 19/10, but if it is a draw William Hill have you covered with their 11/2 on a 1-1, and 8/1 on Balotelli as first scorer. I’m not even sure if the City man will start, but if he does his club colleagues will need to keep a close eye on him.