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.
When favorites win, predictions usually seem to be on. That’s what has happened the last two days. Will tomorrow be any different?
Sweden is supposedly going to be playing a lot of second string players now that they have been eliminated from the tournament. If Ibrahimovic doesn’t play, it will obviously be a big boost for France. Sometimes, when reserve players play – and these aren’t scrubs but full internationals – and they aren’t under any pressure to get a result, the underdog usually does well. However, with France knowing that a loss could eliminate them from the tournament if the other game ends in a draw, they will go all out to win. Add to that the benefit of not having to play Spain in the next round if France wins this match by enough of a margin – though it’s not entirely clear whether you would want to play Italy or Spain in a knockout match at this stage – and that’s enough for me to predict a France win. Stone cold lock.
Pre-game prediction: France 2 Sweden 0
Benzema and Ribery to score for France.
The England game could go either way. What does Roy do now? Draw and England are through. But, you are playing the host country who have to win to go through with Shevchenko possibly out… or possibly in for a glorious finish. What if you sit back and give up a late goal – can you come back? I believe he will choose the safe path. Start Welbeck up front with Rooney in the slot. Young on the left, Gerrard on the right and Milner and Parker at holding midfield. I wouldn’t start Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott initially. They are to come on for Young and Milner depending on what the score is in the second half. The interesting thing will be to see how Rooney and Gerrard play. My feeling is you should let Rooney have a free role in the slot and have Gerrard drop more centrally between Parker and Milner. It would be a modified Christmas tree that let’s Roy see if the Manchester United trio can do the business at the goal end of the tree.
Pre-game prediction: England 1 Ukraine 1
England could easily score three again, but I think it will be Gerrard for England and Yarmolenko for Ukraine.
Wazza’s hair transplant looks very awkward now that he has buzzed the sides. That’s all I need to say about the lead-in to the game. That and the fact that Ibra looks like I’d imagine Atilla would look like if he was a Samurai.
Why England will win
- Sweden lacks the pace, especially on defense, to keep up with the England counter attack. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Welbeck will be too quick for the Swedes, especially Melberg and Granqvist.
- As result of the reserve goalie’s butt on YouTube, Ibrahimovic’s blasting of his teammates and the starting lineup, and the giving up of a lead to two goals from one of the oldest players to ever score two goals in a major international tournament, Sweden does not have the best mindset going into this game.
- Terry and Lescott can frustrate Ibrahimovic up front. Ibra typically does not like playing against big defenders on EPL teams and the England lineup with its defensive setup should be even more difficult for the big Swede. Elmander could help him if he is inserted in the starting lineup, but I just don’t see him making much difference. England is well aware of him from his time at Bolton.
- Hodgson’s tactics are perfect against an aggressive Sweden who has to win this match if they are to hold out hope of qualifying for the next stage.
Why Sweden will win
- Scott Parker may not be able to play, or if he does, his Achilles problem will hinder his effort. Gerrard didn’t have a great game. Is there anyone left in England’s midfield who can adequately clog up the middle – and please don’t say Jordan Henderson can do that job?
- England didn’t really generate any meaningful chances against France apart from the open net miss by Milner and the goal Lescott scored. They will have to do better against Sweden if they hope to take anything away from this game. Sweden will score against England and they are big enough to withstand dead ball situations when England will look to have Terry and Lescott try to nick one.
- Ibrahimovic will back up his anger and bluster and supreme self confidence now that he has put his team and managers on blast. There will be no “cowards” or lack of effort from Sweden.
Pre-game prediction: England 1 Sweden 1
England will accept getting a point and leaving it up to Rooney in the last game to take them to the next round with a win over Ukraine. That said, a bonus for winning the group is not having to probably play Spain in the next round. Much easier to deal with Italy or Croatia. Anyway, we get ahead of ourselves. Welbeck or Gerrard (penalty) to score for England and Sebastian Larsson to score for Sweden on a free kick.