England ready for tough Italian job

England ready for tough Italian job

KIEV - Agence France-Presse
England ready for tough Italian job

Italian fans watch the Group C match against Croatia in the Fan Zone in Poznan.

England will attempt to reach the last four of a major tournament for the first time in 16 years on Sunday as it faces Italy in a Euro 2012 quarterfinal collision.

The burgeoning confidence within Roy Hodgson’s youthful squad is tempered by the knowledge that England has rarely progressed beyond the last eight of major tournaments, with three quarterfinal exits in the past 10 years alone.

But after winning Group D ahead of highly-rated France and extending its unbeaten run to five games under Hodgson, England heads into Sunday’s game in Kiev with a mounting sense of belief that it can prolong its stay in the tournament.

“If we can go about the job in the way we are doing at the moment we will make a game of it and who knows what will happen,” Hodgson said. “It will be another even encounter, another game that will swing either way. The good thing is we are there, we are taking part and still in the competition and we want to be in the competition because we have really enjoyed it.”

A potential headache for Hodgson is that no fewer than five key players are walking a disciplinary tightrope heading into the match. Steven Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Ashley Young, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all just one booking away from missing a potential semifinal against either Germany or Greece.

However Hodgson will instruct the players in jeopardy to ignore the threat of suspension for fear it could inhibit their performance.

Gerrard factor
Hodgson will harbor the biggest concerns over his captain Gerrard, the Liverpool star who has lit up England’s performances so far with a series of inspirational displays from midfield. Gerrard has set up three of England’s five goals at these championships while at the same time shielding his team’s defense effectively with Scott Parker.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli meanwhile has been forced to reshuffle his defense following the injury to rugged center-back Giorgio Chiellini, who is likely to be replaced by Leonardo Bonucci. Prandelli is wary of an England side which he believes have found the “right equilibrium” while maintaining the Azzurri have nothing to fear.

In an ironic reversal of traditional stereotypes, Italy heads into the game with plaudits for its attractive style ringing in the ears while England has been lauded for its defensive obduracy. If England struggles to get a grip in the middle, Italy will look to the enduring class of playmaker Andrea Pirlo to supply the bullets for an attack which could feature Antonio Cassano and Mario Balotelli.

Balotelli’s Manchester City teammates in the England ranks are confident they will be able to effectively shackle the striker. Milner backed center-half Joleon Lescott to deal with the threat posed by Balotelli if he plays.