‘No Spain, no pain’. ‘Why so nervous boys, it’s only the Italians’. ‘Missed the game [Germany’s 4-2 win over Greece], do we have anything to fear from the Germans if we get pasta Italy?’ ‘We will do the Italians #fact’.
The aforementioned newspaper headlines, quotes and tweets are a selection taken from the coverage the English press and former players have given ahead of the quarter-final meeting with Italy. While the Gazzetta dello Sport amongst others focus their analysis on both tactical and individual battles across the pitch come Sunday night, the majority of their English counterparts are busy planning for the semi-final.
Seemingly forever painted as a boring, defensive side full of aging stars, the Azzurri have quickly been written off. Despite troubles in the second-half against Croatia, and an indifferent performance in the win against Ireland, this team arguably deserves a little more respect. While difficulties have arisen in their Euro 2012 campaign thus far, there have been signs of the more expansive and attacking football Cesare Prandelli has tried to implement, but granted this is far from the best Italy we have ever seen. England captain Steven Gerrard admirably reminded most in his post-match interview after the Ukraine win that the game against Italy is not a foregone conclusion and will be a difficult prospect. Unfortunately his words had a short-term effect, if any effect at all on some who are now planning their route to the final having now avoided Spain.
In addition, the fascination with Mario Balotelli continues. Despite giving a truthful and rather sensible press conference ahead of the game, ‘Super Mario’ was picked up on his ‘more a man than Peter Pan’ comment as opposed to his ‘I intend to give my all in this game’ response. TV coverage is dominated by mentions of match-fixing scandals, a negative counter-attacking 'catenaccio' Italy, yet while Greece are lambasted for their approach, do Roy Hodgson’s England really play that differently? Despite having a huge amount of respect for Hodgson, and a likeness for many of the England players who are vastly more talented than most other squads, unfortunately some sections of the media do them no favours. Is this the same in Italy? In short, it is not. The Gazzetta dedicated itself to various talking points in Saturday’s edition, including De Rossi v Gerrard, the battle on the wings and with Rooney, and also the midfield duel, a semi-final with Germany seems a long way away at this moment in time.
“We must match their intensity, aggression and I’m convinced if we can find the right tempo then we can have a great performance. For us it is a challenge against a great side and we want to play without fear, managing to maintain the right concentration for the full 90 minutes to find our chances. We’ve got to be in the game at all times.
We are not the best, but have the determination and hunger to bring Italy back to being the best. We’ve improved a great deal in recent weeks and so far are satisfied, but now must add on these big knockout matches against top teams.” – Cesare Prandelli
The Azzurri must make do without Giorgio Chiellini on Sunday, and will reportedly stick with the 4-3-1-2 formation that faced Ireland in the last group game. Having watched both sides at great length, it is likely that Prandelli’s men will see plenty of the ball. It is imperative that they are clinical in front of goal as chances will fall their way, but must also remain alert at the back as the pace of England’s front-men will undoubtedly cause problems on the counter-attack. This Anglo-Italian clash is finely balanced, with both nations looking to restore pride after disappointing World Cup campaigns two years ago. The game will represent a fascinating tactical battle, with English pragmatism coming up against an Italy side that likes to play a possession based attacking system. If this is to be Italy’s goodbye to Euro 2012, let us hope they go out showing the same spirit and determination as they did in the group games, and without any regrets.
For all the latest news on Italy at Euro 2012, you can follow me on Twitter @italiafooty