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England vs Italy quarter-final key duels

England play Italy in their Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev on Sunday. Here AFP takes a look at three areas where the match could be won and lost:

sports Updated: Jun 24, 2012 01:11 IST
news,hindustan times,euro 2012

England play Italy in their Euro 2012 quarter-final in Kiev on Sunday. Here's a look at three areas where the match could be won and lost:

Joe Hart (ENG) v Gianluigi Buffon (ITA)

Much will depend on how these two goalkeepers perform in order to give the outfield players, and particularly the defence, confidence that they have a safe pair of hands behind them.

So far, neither has disappointed: Hart looks set to fulfil predictions that he could end up being rated as highly as England legend Peter Shilton and Buffon remains the imperious presence that proved so inspirational for Italy at the 2006 World Cup.

The two men are a mutual admirers, with 34-year-old Buffon predicting two years ago Hart would become the best goalkeeper in the world -- but only when he and Spain's Iker Casillas were "old men".

Hart, 25, willingly admits the Juventus stalwart is one of his idols. While only one will end up the winner on Sunday there should still be a smile on their faces when they swap shirts at the end.

Steven Gerrard (ENG) v Andrea Pirlo (ITA)

The pivotal battle between two of the best midfielders of the past decade and the heartbeats of their respective teams, whether at club level or for the national side.

Both have given terrific service to one club -- Gerrard with Liverpool and Pirlo for 10 years with AC Milan, until he moved to Juventus after the Rossoneri failed to offer him the long-term deal he wanted.

The difference between the two is that the Italian has tasted glory at international level, being the creative fulcrum in their 2006 World Cup success.

Gerrard, though, has had years of frustration with England and has a strong sense of purpose, typifying the new serious attitude that has arrived with coach Roy Hodgson.

At the heart of everything, 32-year-old Gerrard has led the team in exemplary fashion and no-one would begrudge him a title here.

But the question is will Pirlo, 33, live up once more to his nickname of "Tinkerbell" and produce that bit of magic which will once again consign Gerrard to a premature return home empty-handed?

Joleon Lescott (ENG) v Mario Balotelli (ITA)

Mario Balotelli's unpredictability both in a footballing sense and temperament wise is what makes him such an alluring presence on the pitch and Lescott will be primed to provoke the darker side of his Manchester City team-mate's character.

Of course Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who is well aware of Balotelli's character, may opt not to risk him from the start in case he self-destructs and puts his compatriots on the back foot.

But with precious few effective options up front and little invention either, Balotelli, 21, is a player who can turn a game -- for better and for the worse.

Lescott, 29, has enhanced his reputation in every game here and as a bonus scored England's goal in the opening 1-1 draw with France.

If he manages to corral Balotelli successfully not only will he shut off a crucial avenue for Pirlo's passes but also may frustrate him so much that it pushes him over the edge.

First Published: Jun 23, 2012 15:49 IST