The Italian Job
The Italian Job avatar

In the 1969 British caper movie “The Italian Job”, Michael Caine and his gang set out to steal a consignment of gold from Italian automaker Fiat. In today’s last quarterfinal game of the round, Roy Hodgson and his gang of England players will try and devise a plan to rob Italy of a place in the semi-final.

Italy are one of the heavyweights of International soccer, having won the World Cup four times and the Euros once. A disappointing outing at the last World Cup, where as defending champions Italy were eliminated finishing bottom of their group, has meant the Azzurri have arrived at this summer’s Euro with expectations lower than usual.

Italy's playmaker Andrea Pirlo vies Spanish midfielder Xavi in their 1-1 draw in Euro 2012. (Getty Images)

Although Italy have disappointed at the last two major tournaments, it should be noted that they are a notoriously difficult team to beat. The last time the Italians lost a game in regular time at the knock-out stage of a tournament was 24 years ago, when they lost to the Soviet Union 2-0 in the semi-final of Euro 88.

England’s prospects of beating the Italians seem even harder when you consider they have not won a quarterfinal game in 16 years, the last time coming in a penalty shoot-out against Spain at Euro 96. In fact, the Three Lions’ quarterfinal record does not make good reading for England fans—they have lost seven out of 10 quarterfinals at either the World Cup or European Championship. The Italians, on the other hand, have lost just two of nine quarterfinals—both times on penalties (France at the 1998 World, and Spain at Euro 2008).

England's captain Steven Gerrard with some of the squad training prior to the match against Italy. (Getty Images)

But England did once go undefeated for 40 years against the Italians, and will be hoping they can emulate the England teams of yesteryear and progress through to the semifinals. Incidentally, the man who ended England’s winning streak over Italy was Fabio Cappello—England’s coach up until February of this year—when he scored for Italy in their 1-0 win over England at Wembley in 1973.

Disappointment at the last World Cup has meant that both teams have changed their style of play. The Italians, who are traditionally super defensive, have opted to try and emulate the Spanish, and focus on a possession/attacking-orientated style of soccer. England, meanwhile, have adopted a disciplined tactical approach that was no doubt laid down by former coach Capello. In fact, some sections of the Italian media have suggested that this England team more closely resemble their own traditions than the current Italy team does itself—It is the Three Lions who now play the “cantenaccio” or the wall.

A defensive approached could work for England, as it did for Chelsea in the Champions league against Barcelona and Bayern Munich. But with Wanye Rooney available once again, England will be hoping they have the ammunition to hurt Italy.

Andre Pirlo (left) has two assists and one goal so far this Euros. Steven Gerrard (right) has three assists. (Getty Images)

The key battle will be in midfield, and Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo are sure to be key figures, having played such prominent parts in all their team’s good plays thus far. England will definitely have to improve their ball retention, or they risk being outnumbered and run ragged in midfield.

England look certain to remain unchanged, with Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck retaining their places upfront. Italy will be without Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini, who will miss the game after picking up a thigh injury in training, and Leonardo Bonucci looks set to replace him.

The game should be a close one, and is hard to call. But one thing is for sure, neither team will want it to go to a penalty shoot-out, as both England and Italy have terrible records.

MATCH FACTS
Head-to-head
• The pair have played each other 22 times, Italy winning nine, England seven and six draws.
• The Azzurri have the edge in recent history – they have lost just once against the Three Lions in 35 years (W6, D2, L1). Their only loss in that time was a 2-0 loss in a friendly tournament in 1997, when Ian Wright and Paul Scholes got the goals.
• Italy have won the two previous meetings at major tournaments; winning 1-0 in group game at the European Championship in 1980. And Italy beat England 2-1 in the third-place play-off at the 1990 World Cup.

England
• England did not register a single shot on target in the 1st half against Ukraine – the last time that happened to England in a European Championship game was in the 1-0 loss to Italy in 1980.
• England had the best chance conversion rate (21.7%) in the group stages of Euro 2012.
• Just two of the last six winners of the European Championship have finished top of their group – Spain (2008) and Germany (1996).
• England and Greece were the only teams who failed to catch an opponent offside in the group stage.
• England have won one of their six previous penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments – beating Spain in the quarter-finals of Euro 1996 after a 0-0 draw.
• Wayne Rooney has 29 international goals and needs one more to go joint-fifth on England’s list of top scorers, level with Sir Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer. Only Michael Owen (40), Jimmy Greaves (44), Gary Lineker (48) and Sir Bobby Charlton (49) have scored more.

Italy
• In the last 24 years, Italy have lost only two knock-out games at European Championships or World Cups, excluding penalty shoot-outs. They were beaten 2-1 in the Euro 2000 final against France, and 2-1 by South Korea in the last 16 of the 2002 World Cup.
• They have lost only two of nine quarter-finals – and both of those were shoot-out defeats (to France at the 1998 World Cup and Spain at Euro 2008).
• The Azzurri had the best defensive record in Euro 2012 qualifying, conceding just twice.
• Andrea Pirlo made 2,778 successful passes for Juventus this season – the highest tally of any player in one of the top European leagues.
• Italy have lost five of seven penalty shoot-outs at major tournaments, and two of three at European Championships; they beat the Dutch in the semi-finals of Euro 2000, but lost to Spain in the quarter-finals four years ago and to Czechoslovakia in a third-place play-off in 1980

About Anthony Ta

Anthony Ta is a writer for the GotSoccer Magazine, specializing in Premier League, Champions League and the Euros.
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