Pirlo vs Gerrard. Whoever plays better comes away with the win.
Why England will win
- If Roy Hodgson plays Carroll with Rooney, Italy will have a tough time keeping him from scoring. Chiellini is out and so they might have to go back to a back three. Do you really think Barzagli or De Rossi can match up with Carroll in the center of the box? If Carroll gets service from Milner, Gerrard, Walcott or Ashley Young (if he’s healthy enough to play), it will be a long day for Italy.
- It just feels like this is England’s time. They have played defensive against France, offensive against Sweden and lucky against Ukraine. Rooney’s back and he scored even though he didn’t have a particularly good game. Welbeck and Walcott had wonder goals. They have speed on the wings. The loss of Cahill, Barry and Lampard hasn’t hurt them yet. Low expectations. All of this points to England getting the breaks it needs.
- With Lampard out, there is no question how Gerrard needs to play. And how he’s playing. His crossing, attitude and effort have been perfect. All he needs is to score on a free kick or penalty and his confidence will be sky high. He will impose himself physically on Italy’s midfield and that’s why England will win.
- Hodgson’s knows how to prepare this team to play against an Italian team. He coached Inter Milan in Serie A and knows how to insert a pragmatic game plan.
Why Italy will win
- Gianluigi Buffon. World Cup 2006. All Italy ever needed to do was get to penalties and they knew Buffon would win it for them. It worked against Australia and then against France in the finals. If this gets to penalty kicks – and that is a very real possibility here – are you going to bet on England (the team that never seems to win on penalty kicks backstopped by Hart, the youngest goalkeeper left standing in the tournament) or Buffon with Pirlo and De Rossi still there for the successful penalty kick takers in 2006?
- They know how to win these types of knockout games. They’ve done it so many times before.
- Cassano and Di Natale have been lively. But Mario Balotelli could be the game changer. He obviously knows how to go against Lescott and Hart from practicing with them daily at Manchester City. This could be his shining moment for Italy. He is one of the most talented players there is and the game seems effortless to him.
- The pressure is going to start to build for England and now they are going to have to take the game to the other team, something they haven’t had to do this this tournament. It’s more like the usual England, but not the role England has had to play at Euro 2012.
Pre-game prediction: England 2 Italy 1
It’s going to be hard to score two goals against Buffon. So the 2 for England may be in the form of the “goal” you get when you win on penalties. I would bet on Carroll, Terry or Lescott to score aerially against Italy off a dead ball. Marchisio will finally come good and score on Sunday. I know I said Buffon is tough to beat in penalty kicks, but Spain did it and so can England. It’s time.
No Pirlo. Much as I like Aquilani, he’s a different kind of player. Maybe the way to make up for Pirlo is to start the entire Roma midfield and have De Rossi and Perrotta along with Aquilani to support a threesome of Toni, Del Piero/Cassano (I prefer Del Piero in this game) and Camoranesi. That should give Italy enough bodies in midfield and a set of younger, more dynamic midfielders who have had a good season in Serie A. All this to say that that is the only way Italy are going to be able to beat Spain. Jam up the middle of the park, play Italian catenaccio football and hope for Toni to convert a header off a deadball situation. The weakness of the Spanish team is the center of defense where Marchena and Puyol (or Albiol if Puyol is still out injured) cannot match up with Toni. I give the Italians a 30% chance of winning – and given my predictive powers in the quarters, that would guarantee them a spot in the semi final.
Spain should just continue doing what they have been doing. Dominate ball possession and rely on Torres and Villa to score goals. Italy’s defense is uncharacteristically weak – Panucci (the usual right back) is the leader in the middle and plays with Chiellini, the lowest ranked central defender in the squad (Materazzi, Cannavaro and Barzagli are all injured). Grosso is good at left back, but more known for going forward, and Zambrotta has had an average tournament. Unfortunately, for Spain, they are backed up by Buffon. If I were Arragones, I would not start Xavi and Iniesta together. I would have Senna, Cesc, Xabi Alonso and Xavi to go with Torres and Villa up front. Drop Silva and Iniesta. Xabi and Senna are good holding midfielders and will counter the Italian midfield, while Cesc is a very tough two way player and will support them at the defensive end. Cesc, Xavi and Xabi are all great passers and you are going to need all of them so the Italians can’t focus on shutting Xavi down. Silva hasn’t done much in this tournament. If you are behind, then bring on Iniesta and Silva, but otherwise, go with this lineup.
Pre-game prediction: Spain 2 Italy 1
It’s time for Torres to show the world what he has learned in England and impose himself physically on the Italian defense…
Italy has to win. Romania could be okay with a draw. Regardless, Romania will play for a draw and hope to pull off a counter attack winner. Straight to the point – Italy wins 1 to 0.
Donadoni, start Del Piero and Di Natale along with Toni up front. Bench Camoranesi, though I think he’s a great player for a knockout game. For the midfield, it should be Pirlo, Gattuso and De Rossi. Bench Ambrosini. And if you are feeling like being even more aggressive, which you should be since Romania is not going to put as much pressure in midfield, I’d start Aquilani in place of Gattuso. De Rossi can play the holding midfield role. Start Zambrotta at right back and Grosso at left back. Chiellini and Barzagli in the middle.
Romania – do what you did with France and hope you can get a goal off a dead ball. Contra, Chivu, Rat and Tamas did a great job in the last game.
Pre-game prediction: Italy 1 Romania 0
My updated thoughts after watching this last week’s action and with the current injury report.
Group A: Still think Portugal wins this group though I think if there is an upset possibility, it’s that the Turks maybe roll them before the tournament gets going. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Turks or even the Swiss pip the Czechs for second place but I think it’s still the Czech Republic through in second place.
Group B: Germany wins this and even though Croatia plays some stylish football I am going to go on a limb and pick Poland to finish second. Eduardo missing is a big loss that Modric and Niko Kranjcar are not going to be able to make up though Olic is nice.
Group C: The tough one. Italy have suffered a major setback with Cannavaro done for the tournament. No Nesta, no Cannavaro and possibly the big Stiff with the stiff chest, Materazzi, on the bench means Chiellini and Barzagli starting in the middle. Sorry, not going to happen in terms of their winning the tournament no matter what Pirlo says about their mental state being better than at the World Cup. This isn’t the World Cup where they can sleepwalk through the first round, almost losing to the US and then squeaking by Australia. This group is as tough as it gets in world football. No Robin van Persie for the first game means if the Dutch lose against Italy, they are up against it. No Viera is a good thing for France in my book. Diarra or Toulalan with Maka is better than Patrick and Maka. He’s lost more than a step in class. Whichever of the three wins the most points off Romania goes through – I think it will be Netherlands and France. Love that man Ribery and hope Evra starts instead of Abidal.
Group D: Spain and Russia. End of story.
I still stand by Portugal v Spain for the title. However, Spain will get knocked out in the quarters if they don’t improve massively relative to their performance against the US. You can’t play Torres up front alone and expect to get it done. No real wingers to stretch the defense in the squad I saw. There’s no Joaquin, no Vicente, no Capel. Aragones is crazy for thinking a whole bunch of Cescs are what you can use in midfield and expect to win. Play Cesc and Xavi or Iniesta. Then get offense on one wing, use a holding midfielder like Senna and get another striker up front. They need Villa in the worst way. And Puyol looks like he is past the Use By date.
Below are my predictions for this weekend’s game – look for updates to this column daily.
|Saturday, June 7, 2008
||1 Czech Rep
||St Jakob Park
||Stade de Geneve
|Sunday, June 8, 2008
||Ernst Happel Stadion
|| 0 Poland