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.