Sunday June 24 2012
Preview: England-Italy

The big question is Riccardo Montolivo or Thiago Motta as Italy prepare to face England in tonight’s Euro 2012 quarter-final.

Cesare Prandelli was determined to keep his cards close to his chest in Press conferences, but the Italian media have few doubts over the starting XI in Kiev.

The 3-5-2 system of the opening two group games is shelved again for a four-man defence and diamond midfield.

Andrea Barzagli admitted as much when he let slip in Saturday’s Press conference that Italy will “defend with four players, but also have to defend with the whole team.” He was then told off by Prandelli, who was sitting next to the Juventus man.

As Giorgio Chiellini is injured, Barzagli will start in defence along with Leonardo Bonucci, Federico Balzaretti and Ignazio Abate.

This is because Christian Maggio has shown he struggles with four at the back, being accustomed to Napoli’s 3-5-2 system.

The big question is in midfield with two very different players pushing for the trequartista role behind the strikers.

Thiago Motta has so far been inconsistent when used in that role and is carrying a left thigh injury, but Prandelli confirmed he is fit to play.

It remains to be seen whether the Brazilian-born PSG star will start or make way for new Milan signing Montolivo.

This would be a risk, as Montolivo is less physically sturdy than Thiago Motta and was dropped from the side after the disastrous 3-0 friendly defeat to Russia.

An outside option would be Milan’s Antonio Nocerino, who has physicality and was the Rossoneri’s second top scorer this season in Serie A, but he has rarely been used by Prandelli.

Andrea Pirlo, Daniele De Rossi and Claudio Marchisio are beyond doubt for the midfield roles.

In attack Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano look certain to be the partnership again after the Manchester City man was benched against the Republic of Ireland.

Antonio Di Natale therefore returns to a supersub role.

England do not have many question marks over their line-up, as Roy Hodgson is expected to make no changes from the 1-0 win over Ukraine.

That means Wayne Rooney upfront after he missed the first two group games due to a ban, partnered by Danny Welbeck.

The alternatives are Andy Carroll and the pacey Theo Walcott, the latter very likely to come on as a substitute when Italian legs are beginning to tire.

The Three Lions may have topped their group with two wins and a 1-1 draw against France, but they have not particularly shone so far in the tournament.

Statistics show that in Euro 2012 England have had an average 9.7 shots per game compared to Italy’s 17.7, including 5.3 shots on target to the Azzurri’s 11.3.

The history books do not shine on England either, as they have not beaten one of the big teams in a major tournament since Argentina in the 2002 World Cup group phase.

In terms of knockouts, the most recent victory was on penalties against Spain in Euro ’96.

On the other hand, excluding penalties, Italy have lost just two knock-out clashes in 24 years and both of them were Golden Goals.

Those incidents were to South Korea in the 2002 World Cup and France in the Euro 2000 Final.

The last side to beat the Azzurri in a knockout match within 90 minutes was the USSR in the Euro 1988 semi-final.

The head-to-head record between these nations is of nine Italy wins, seven for England and six stalemates.

However, over the last 35 years that reads six Azzurri victories, two draws and a single English win at Le Tournoi in 1997.

Their only major tournament encounters have both seen tricolore flags waving. Marco Tardelli scored in a 1-0 Euro 1980 group game victory, while Roberto Baggio and Toto Schillaci’s penalty beat England 2-1 in the 1990 World Cup third place final.


Probable line-ups

Italy: Buffon; Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Balzaretti; Marchisio, Pirlo, De Rossi; Thiago Motta; Balotelli, Cassano

England: Hart; Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole; Milner, Gerrard, Parker, Young; Rooney, Welbeck

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