There’s been some talk of Andy Carroll being better suited to taking on the Italian defence than Danny Welbeck and it’s obvious why. Having someone who can hold the ball up is important. I like Carroll and I can see the logic, but I can’t see Roy Hodgson breaking up the Rooney/Welbeck partnership for the Euro 2012 quarter-final. Rooney was in the right place at the right time for the tap against the Ukraine, but apart from that he didn’t have a good game. It’s understandable after a long lay-off from competitive action, but he needs to click into gear now.
England haven’t been great in this tournament, but they’ve been professional and they’re getting results. Roy Hodgson deserves immense credit for quietly going about his business. The Sweden game was a prime example. The Swedes caused us a lot of problems, but Roy made one or two changes during the course of the game and England managed to grind out the win. It was a similar story against Ukraine when we started badly, but eventually go it together and defended brilliantly to get the result. It wasn’t spectacular, but it’s a nice habit to have.
There were times against Sweden when England were a little too gung-ho and they can’t afford to do that against Italy. They’ve got some quality players who can pick a pass and split defences in an instant. But on paper, I’d see the English players as being slightly better. Anyone is free to disagree with me on that, but our players are regularly coming up against the best players in the world at club level, so my expectation levels are always high.
The Italians have mirrored England in many ways. They’ve been steady and professional so far. Before the tournament, I wouldn’t have touched Italy with a betting barge pole. Their results in the pre-competition friendlies were poor and although some of it was down to experimentation from the manager, it looked really worrying. They’ve really over-performed compared to people’s expectations and I’ve enjoyed watching them. They’ve got a couple of real world class stars.
Pirlo is just fantastic. He can pass, he can shot, he orchestrates things from the middle of the park so well. Balotelli is an enigma. Like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get. But when he’s on form, he’s excellent, so you can’t switch off against him. Di Natale is a very clinical finisher, so they do have a strong attacking threat.
At times, I’ve struggled to see what everyone else sees in Balotelli. He can good, but I’ve seen him so many times when he looks like he can’t be bothered. I’d be tempted to start him on the bench for the simple reason when he comes on as a sub, he always looks like he has something to prove. He’s unbelievable on his day, but we haven’t seen too many of those days.
From all I’ve seen, I’m tipping England for this one. I’m a big believer in momentum and they’re unbeaten so far in the tournament. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it might be England going through after extra-time. I can’t see too many goals and I could well imagine it being a draw after normal time. England to win 2-1 after extra time would be my shout. As for a goalscorer, Steven Gerrard has been brilliant and I’d love to see him get a goal as reward for all his assists.