Sing whilst we’re winning
So, England are through the group stage, hurrah! Many thought they would not get so far but three solid, professional performances have seen them out of Group D and into the top spot.
They have battled hard in every game, none of which were settled victories, but victories all the same.
In Roy Hodgson, England has a smart, experienced manager who knows what he is doing tactically in a way that Harry Redknapp does not. Many said that England could do a lot worse when the ex-West Brom and Fulham manager was appointed, and these people have thus far been proven right. He is getting the best out of his players and chose people he could trust in the management team. He also made the correct decision in all the key departments when it came to selection.
Hodgson may have selected Stewart Downing, but choosing Terry over Ferdinand was always the right call, as was making Steven Gerrard the team’s captain. The Liverpudlian has thrived under the responsibility, just as he always has done for his club. He has toned down his game a little to suit England’s conservative style and his performances have been all the more influential for it.
Gerrard has proven with three assists that he can still make his attacking efforts count and his set pieces have been magnificent up until now. But England face a big test on Sunday night, probably on a par with the one they faced with France.
The difference is England didn’t fire up against France, nor did they have their best striker – Wayne Rooney.
Just as England must watch the mercurial Balotelli, Italy must watch the far more consistent, more established Rooney who now has minutes under his belt. England have a great chance to progress to their first major semi-final since Euro 1996 and cannot afford to let it pass them by.
We can’t let it go to the lottery of penalties; we need to win decisively and preferably within 90 minutes.
Without Chiellini, Italy’s defence could be vulnerable and if it means Daniele De Rossi is pushed to centre-back, that will also weaken their midfield. And with the outrageously consistent talents of Andrea Pirlo, it could do with weakening.
Pirlo is a natural-born string-puller in the midfield, dictating the flow and pace of the game and it will be truly magnificent to see him and Gerrard – two animals – do battle when the whistle is blown. Indeed the Juventus man is – perhaps along with De Rossi – probably the only thoroughbred talent to rank alongside the likes of Baggio, Mancini, Tardelli, Rossi, Cannavaro, Schillaci and Donadoni in years gone by.
England also has massive threats coming off the bench. If Ashley Young is not fit enough to start, then Theo Walcott has to, but we will still have the explosive talents of Oxlade-Chamberlain and the goal threat of Andy Carroll lurking on the sidelines.
In Buffon, Italy have one of the few keepers in the world better than Joe Hart, but this game should not be won or lost on goal-keeping errors such is the strength of both individuals.
It is much to ask, but a 2-0 win to England, playing together as they have been, is not at all out of the picture.