Even though I’ve predicted 3 – 1, I expect, as we all do, this to be a very tight game. The goals that win England the game, I’m predicting to come towards the very end of the match, possibly in extra time.
Gerrard, from a position of just quietly getting on with it, suddenly has a lot of extra pressure to cope with, as the “England expects” hype machine shifts up through the gears. It’s the same for Rooney, as always. They’re both very capable of dealing with it. They’re both very capable of not. Fingers crossed.
The defence hasn’t looked “amazing” to me, as some seem to suggest, but it’s certainly looked okay for the most part. I suppose when you’re effectively playing with four central defenders (when Gerrard and Parker tuck back) it provides quite a barrier. I haven’t seen much evidence that Italy have the fire power to trouble us too much. That’s not to say they can’t trouble us from other areas.
I think the slower pace of this game, compared with the out-and-out mania of the Ukrainians and the style of Sweden will suit our defence and midfield and should allow us to build better, getting the likes of Ashley Young and James Milner on the ball more in dangerous areas, something neither of them have had too much success with thus far. Having said that I’d be tempted to change Ashley Young (again).
Rooney needs more time on the ball to create and probe and build up his sharpness. If we are to progress we need at least 30-40% more from him than we saw in the Ukraine game. Danny Welbeck I’m sure will get the nod up front and deservedly so. A goal for him would be nice, obviously.
As for the Italians, as I said before, Balotelli is one of their stars and that isn’t anywhere near good enough. He would want so hard to play well against us and the pressure he will put on himself, as a result, will be all it takes for him to self-destruct. Balotelli aside, Pirlo et al, will without doubt be our biggest test under Hodgson.
Goals: Rooney (pen), Welbeck, Terry.