England v Italy, 19:45
That legend of Italian football and all-around top man Paolo di Canio (0 caps for his country) has described this England side as being like an ‘Italian team from the 1980’s’, and when a distinguished, intelligent fascist (his words, not mine) like the Swindon boss speaks about international football the average writer is normally listening to someone more worthwhile. For a start, the vast majority of Italian coaches in the 80’s would have been incandescent with rage at the number of chances and goals Sweden, France and the Ukraine were able to fashion against England.
From an English point of view this is a pretty good draw, as there are similarities between the French and Italian sides that mean we should be a bit prepared for this one. Add to that the teams have similar amounts of talent, ability and players at the peak of their powers and you realise this is pretty much an even-money affair. The media will enjoy looking ahead to the Germany game, but the English public are well aware what the challenge is now, and won’t be fooled by the tools in the red-tops.
It’s tough to judge, but I don’t think the Italian public are very convinced about their side either, especially as tournament winners. The scandals of the last few years hit the game fairly hard, even affecting the likes of Gigi Buffon, and when Mario Balotelli moved abroad there was a worry that the league could not hold onto the best players. Juve have gone some way to restoring some pride, but with a fresh inquiry hanging over that old lady the public seem to have become a little guarded about trusting the men in blue.
Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini will miss Sunday’s game with a thigh injury, which will come as a massive blow to the management team. Chiellini and his club-mate Barzagli had been so good for Juventus this season that the two were taken despite both carring injurues, and now that Barzagli has returned the other half of this supposed dream team is crocked. There are no new injury concerns for England at this stage, but once again the fitness levels of Steven Gerrard and Scot Parker will need to be monitored carefully.