It is an ironic twist of fate that an injury-plagued England will be seen as the defensive side in Sunday’s Euro 2012 quarter-final clash against ideological opposites Italy in Kiev.
For a country known for popularising catenaccio and winning on the counter, the Azzurri’s new free-wheeling style of play will have the daunting task of breaking down a solid English unit without resorting to a dreaded penalty shootout.
In what is likely to be a tight encounter- both sides are equally poised in bwin’s 3way football betting market at 7/4 – we single out three key Azzurri frailties which, if exposed, could secure the Three Lions a semi-final date with old rivals Germany.
1. Italian fatigue
It’s no secret that the Azzurri tend to run out of steam after the hour mark, which is why England are priced at a very tempting 4/1 to outscore their opponents between the 60th and the 75th minutes, when they are genuinely at their weakest.
Italy threw away their lead against Croatia with a rare Giorgio Chiellini howler on 72 minutes, while Cesc Fabregas equalised for Spain after 64 minutes.
The style of play Cesare Prandelli demands is the likely explanation, as it is diametrically opposed to the traditional defensive Italian approach, which encourages teams to save their energy for the decisive counter, probably nearer the death rather than early on.
The attacking 3-5-2 formation used against Spain and Croatia (which could well be reinstated against England) tends to look particularly rigid after the break, as Italy’s midfielders are either too tired or not capable of giving Andrea Pirlo or Daniele de Rossi any options, making them sitting ducks against an eventual counter.
Had an on-form striker played instead of Fernando Torres, there is little doubt that the Azzurri would have regretted giving away the ball so close to their fragile three-man defence.
By making it to the break either level – or even a goal down – England will have the edge over a tiring Azzurri side, making their 19/10 odds of scoring more goals in the second half than they do in the first rather enticing indeed.
2. Azzurri profligacy in front of goal
While this attacking brand of football may have won a fair few plaudits, many Italian fans will doubtless rue the countless chances the Azzurri squandered to put both the Spain and Croatia games beyond doubt.
Through a combination of inaccurate marksmanship, poor decision-making, badly-timed runs and inexplicable indecision (you know who you are, Mario!), the Azzurri are betraying one of their traditional redeeming features: the ability to take their chances and punish any defensive errors in a ruthless manner.
Against Croatia, for example, Italy had a tendency to try too many long-range shots from outside the box, when playing simple slide-rule passes may have increased their chances of scoring.
The Azzurri are consequently priced at 33/100 to score less than two goals – a good indicator of form rather than a punt worth backing.
3. ‘Super Mario or Stupid Mario?’
This Mark Lawrenson quote seems the best way of presenting Prandelli’s attacking dilemma. With the Manchester City striker certain to make some form of appearance, his notorious temper is as likely to get him sent off as his talent is of scoring a match-winning hat-trick.
Cue Italy’s 17/4 odds of seeing red first on Sunday – a good price as the match is unlikely to see any others. Though this may be a tight, defensive game, neither side truly possess any compulsive foulers and/or Kevin Muscat disciples.
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