Hodgson's 'everyone back' strategy pays off. Or does it?

by Luke Irelan-Hill

The first time that England was ever beaten by Italy in a football match was in 1973. A famous 1-0 victory was Italy’s first every triumph on English soil. The venue was Wembley and the date was November 14, 1973. Who scored the goal I hear you ask? You should have guessed it….Fabio Capello.

Until then, Italy had never once managed to beat England on their visits to the home of football.

They travelled to play England as World Cup holders in 1934, but they were in awe of their hosts, they very much expected to be hammered.

They were not.

Italy fought bravely and a late comeback scared the English, but the hosts managed to scrape a 3-2 victory.

However since then things have changed. For England, they have changed for the worst. For Italy the change could not have been better. Winning in England has almost become a guaranteed result for them.

Since 1980 Italy have had something of a hold over England, a control. A control that England have never been able to win back. Italy came; they conquered the twin towers and placed the Italian flag on top of them. They had won. England no longer put any fear into Italy.

Since 1980, when Italy play England they expect to win. At the European Championships that summer, a Marco Tardelli goal put England on the brink of their eventual elimination from the group staged. Since then Italy have won 5, drawn 2 and lost 2 against England which includes a 2-1 victory in the third place play-off at Italia ’90.

There is no denying that the tables have definitely turned – history proves this. As a record for the Italians it will be a source of confidence. Past meetings mean nothing though at this stage. It’s the knock-out stages and it’s a straight 90 minute winner take all match.

But how much should we read into this before Sunday night’s quarter-final?

The last meeting between Italy and England was 10 years ago. A lot has changed in this time.

The Premier League and La Liga have risen to become the dominant force in Europe that Serie A once was. Players have come and gone – Buffon is the only Italian still playing from that last meeting – so it should probably be taken with a small bit of belief. England have a very good chance of winning.

A new generation of Italian players have grown up admiring English football like never before and that should not be overlooked. The Italians are finally starting to accept that attack has taken over defence. They see the English game as the right way to play and this should not be underestimated.

However it would be wrong to start thinking that Italian clubs are now underrated. AC Milan and Inter Milan have both won the Champions League in the last five years. Serie A is still a force in the modern game.

Italy’s Daniele De Rossi admitted on Wednesday that Steven Gerrard is his idol. This is not uncommon these days. Many of the successes in English football in recent times have an Italian link.

The last three FA Cup finals have been won by a different Italian manager. Carlo Ancelotti did the ‘double’ at Chelsea in 2010. Roberto Mancine won the FA Cup at Manchester City in 2011 and the Premier League in 2012. Romerto Di Matteo guided Chelsea to another FA Cup success in 2012 and also achieved Champions League success in May, the trophy the club had been longing for.

There has definitely been a change in emphasis in the way Italy and England now play their football. England, with the legacy Capello left, who was ‘Italianised by his time with Inter’, now play with a defensive mind-set and score their goals on the counter. This was always the Italian style, but they have now changed the way they play but interestingly they have gone in the opposite direction. Italy now plays attacking football as they showed against World and European Champions Spain and it enabled them to pick up a 1-1 draw.

All-in-all times have changed and roles have been reversed. But for everything that has changed and all the differences, England and Italy do still share things in common.

Both nations entered Euro 2012 very quietly and were hopeful rather than expectant. This is unusual for both sides but is due to the changing times that they are going through. Both squads are aging and are being replenished by youth. Time is needed to build again and this has been accepted by both sides.

But they have both got through their groups, England topping theirs ahead of France, and Italy nearly piped Spain to first place. This has brought with it a new found confidence and this is starting to be seen through press conferences from both camps. They are starting to believe – after all they are just three wins away from lifting the trophy.

Ahead of Sunday’s game both sides will be confident they can progress. England was happy to avoid Spain, and likewise Italy was happy to avoid France.

For both they will be thinking they can win. But neither will be relishing the prospect of playing Germany in the semi-finals!