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How to pull off the Italian job

sports Updated: Jun 24, 2012 02:09 IST
HT Correspondent

In the words of captain Steven Gerrard, England "cannot afford to underestimate" Cesare Prandelli's Italy when the two sides clash in the quarterfinal on Sunday. Here are five key areas where England need to be on top:

Ensure Pirlo does not get the ball

Andrea Pirlo is by far the most important player in this Italian team. The 33-year-old, who seemed to have peaked a few years ago, has been rejuvenated by last summer's move to Juventus after 10 years at Milan. Most of Italy's moves start with Pirlo. He never looks hurried on the ball (mainly because he is never hurried) with his vision and technique enabling him to pass his way out of most situations. There was a beautiful moment less than five minutes into Italy's game against Spain when Pirlo had to pick up a sloppy pass from Thiago Motta with Xabi Alonso and Cesc Fábregas closing in on him quickly. What did Pirlo do? He swivelled and backheeled the ball to Daniele De Rossi, who was able to get Italy out of trouble. England need to put pressure on Pirlo from the outset, but one player may not be enough. They may need two or three players with Wayne Rooney or Danny Welbeck dropping deep.

Get at the full-backs
Cesare Prandelli's Italy are not as defensive-minded as previous Azzurri teams, with both right-back Ignazio Abate and left-back Federico Balzaretti encouraged to go forward. Abate can be suspect defensively, while against Ireland, Balzaretti needed Daniele De Rossi's help. Italy's expected 4-3-1-2 is an extremely narrow formation, so if England are able to put pressure on them, they will create chances.

Exploit Chiellini's absence
The central defence, for so long an Italian strength, has been troubling Prandelli for some time with the 3-0 frie-ndly defeat against Russia just before the Euros a new low. The Italians were in disarray without Giorgio Chiellini, who will miss the quarters with a thigh injury. Prandelli's central pairing is likely to consist of Leonardo Bonucci, who can be erratic, and Andrea Barzagli, who carried a calf injury into the tournament.

Stop Thiago Motta, if he's selected
What this Italian team lacks is a proper playmaker. Thiago Motta (left) has played all three of Italy's games but has not impressed and may lose his place. As the Italian newspaper Il Libero wrote after the game against Croatia: "He didn't play as a holding midfielder, he didn't play as a playmaker and he didn't play as a box-to-box midfielder. Or rather, he tried to do a little bit of all of those things." England — and particularly Scott Parker — will need to keep a close eye on the Brazilian-born player if he is selected, but the main danger will come from the Italian forwards.

Mark Balotelli & Cassano tightly
The Italian forward line is working well together and can score goals out of nothing. Antonio Cassano is a certain starter and Mario Balotelli should regain his place in the starting XI. Cassano is deceptively quick and could trouble John Terry with his technique. Italy are unlikely to attempt to beat Terry and Joleon Lescott in the air, so it will be extremely important for Terry and Lescott to mark the Italian forwards tightly and not give them any space to manoeuvre but at the same time they must avoid giving away free-kicks on the edge of the box.

The penalty predicament