England or Italy?
Sky Sports' writers argue over whether or not England can beat Italy in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012
Last Updated: June 22, 2012 11:10pm
Roy Hodgson: Will England's manager be plotting another defensive display when taking on Italy?
England and Italy meet on Sunday in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. The Three Lions will kick-off in Kiev with the hope of reaching the semi-finals and matching their best performance at the finals of an international tournament since 1996. Here, two Sky Sports reporters debate whether or not England can defeat Cesare Prandelli's Italy.
Rachel Griffiths: England can beat Italy, because...
Out of the quarter-final encounters at Euro 2012, England versus Italy appears the most evenly matched, with players from both camps predicting a tight affair.
The Three Lions head into the clash on the back of winning Group D against the odds and confidence is likely to be blooming in Roy Hodgson's squad.
Their group campaign was not always pretty but England ground out the results and positives can be taken as they prepare to go up against the Azzurri.
The players look to be gelling better as a team with each game and settling into their shape under the calming influence of Hodgson, who has made his defensive approach clear from the start.
John Terry and Joleon Lescott appear more assured in the centre of defence and while the duo have previously struggled for pace, Italian strikers Antonio Cassano and Antonio Di Natale are not the quickest up front.
The hard-working combination of captain Steven Gerrard and Scott Parker has provided a tight shield in front of the back four to help keep the Three Lions unbeaten under Hodgson, and their partnership could make it tricky for the likes of Italy's main creative force, Andrea Pirlo, to find the likes of Mario Balotelli.
With Gerrard and Parker helping soak up the pressure, it gives players such as Ashley Young and Theo Walcott more opportunities to hit opponents on the counter-attack, while allowing room for overlap from Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole. England can play the Italians at their own game.
Gerrard, England's star man so far, has also given an emphatic reminder of his own threat going forward, contributing assists on three of England's five goals. After finding outstanding form at just the right moment, the skipper is likely to cause problems for an Italian backline missing one of its most imposing figures - the injured Giorgio Chiellini.
Without the stalwart Juventus stopper Italy's defence could struggle to contain England's attacking force, spearheaded by the recently-returned Wayne Rooney.
Rooney appeared rusty at times against Ukraine after a two-match suspension but the talismanic striker is likely to be fitter and stronger for Sunday's clash after netting the winner last time out.
Sky Bet Odds
Agree with Rachel? Bet Now on England to win 1-0, 2-0 or 2-1 9/4, England to win & over 2.5 goals in match 6/1, Rooney to score first & England to win 2-0 45/1!
While the frontman will be targeting a decimated Italian defence, England are at full strength. It is a rare occurrence to be this far into a tournament and have all 23 players fit but that is the happy situation Hodgson finds himself in ahead of Sunday.
If England roll out another of the well-organised and spirited performances they have produced so far under Hodgson, they should be at least able to contain Italy, and the manager has already shown a knack for making match-winning substitutions after Walcott turned things around against Sweden, while he also has potential game-changers in Jermain Defoe and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Even if it goes down to penalties, Italy's record from the spot in a major tournament is barely better than England's and the Three Lions can expect confident No.1 Joe Hart to hold his own between the sticks opposite the experienced Gianluigi Buffon.
There is no disputing that England will face a tough test against the Italians on Sunday but it is a challenge they can conquer.
Lewis Rutledge: England cannot beat Italy, because...
England have not reached the semi-finals of a major tournament for 16 years and if those rose-tinted spectacles are removed, it is clear to see the long wait is not about to come to an end in Poland and Ukraine over the next few days.
England's group may have looked tricky on paper but in reality their opponents lacked quality, and a large amount of luck was still required to make it through.
France dominated possession in the opening match but were happy to accept a point, before England were given a real scare by Sweden and only got out of jail when Theo Walcott somehow equalised with an unremarkable shot from distance that inexplicably bamboozled their goalkeeper.
Another goalkeeping mistake allowed England to beat Ukraine, and of course if goalline technology had been in place, the match would have taken a different course.
England were outplayed by Ukraine, a team ranked 52nd in the world, as they again treated the ball like they were playing pass the parcel - determined to get rid of it as quickly as possible.
Wayne Rooney may have scored but he looked a long way short of his best form and there are plenty of other areas of concern, with Ashley Young contributing very little, James Milner a passenger and Scott Parker looking as though he has been made to run all the way to Ukraine from England's training camp in Krakow.
Then there is the much-vaunted defence, which some reports would have us believe is as watertight as the AC Milan back four under Arrigo Sacchi.
The truth, of course, is that England are still very vulnerable at the back and there is a difference between defensive solidity and allowing opponents chances which you hope they will miss.
Sky Bet Odds
Agree with Lewis? Bet Now on Italy to win by exactly 2 goals 8/1, Italy to score 2+ in the first half 9/1, John Terry to be carded 6/4, Italy to win & both teams to score 9/2.
England's good fortune has to run out some time and it could well happen on Sunday against an Italy side that might be underestimated as England madly celebrate the fact they do not have to play Spain.
Let us not forget that Italy held their own against Spain to draw 1-1, before also taking a point off a very dangerous Croatia team and then professionally dismantling Republic of Ireland in their final group game.
Italy are much stronger in defence than any team England has yet played and they pose a considerable attacking threat, with Antonio Cassano, Andrea Pirlo and Antonio Di Natale all impressing.
Cesare Prandelli has proved himself to be an astute tactician, utilising his substitutes to good effect and keeping the prodigiously talented Mario Balotelli on a tight leash.
Parallels can be drawn between this Italy team and the one in 2006 which, also against the backdrop of a domestic match-fixing scandal, went all the way to win the World Cup against the odds.
So, while England have done well to reach the quarter-finals, those low pre-tournament expectations should not escalate now, because overcoming Italy will prove a bridge too far.