Unfashionable and unfancied but now just one game from a semi-final appearance; could England become the surprise package of Euro 2012?
Heading into the tournament England were in a state of flux. Just weeks after the controversial appointment of Roy Hodgson they travelled with less hope than perhaps any previous side going into a major tournament. Written off by the masses, hopes were not high but Hodgson, to his and his coaching staff's credit, has managed to fashion a side that appears to subscribe to the ethos of the collective rather than the individual. Less Golden Generation and more blood, sweat and tears. Certainly since topping Group D a little momentum has begun to build, reflected in their odds ahead of the game with bwin.com.
Much like his recent clubs sides, Hodgson has set his stall clearly out. Defensively solid, Hodgson is happy for England to concede both territory and possession with his sides controlling the areas around the 18-yard box. Whilst this approach means they do not create many opportunities themselves, it does mean that they manage to restrict the quality of chances to the opposition.
England have also shown spirit in the tournament in coming back from a deficit in their crucial second game against Sweden, suggesting a resistance in the side that has been lacking in previous tournaments. The quarter-final stage of major tournaments has often been their downfall though. Progression from the group stages has often been achieved only for the nation to be let down.
So what of Italy? Their 3-5-2 formation has stood out in the tournament and certainly caused Spain problems in their opening game with their approach surprising the Spaniards and they virtually matched them chance for chance. A frustrating point against Croatia followed to threaten them with elimination before they eased through against Italy. Andrea Pirlo has been outstanding so far, proving that despite being 33 years of ago, he is still one of the games finest orchestrators.
Whilst England's line-up is all but set in stone, Italy have questions about their selection. Giorgio Chiellini may well miss out but the biggest dilemma for Cesare Prandelli is who to start in attack. Whilst Antonio Cassano has started all three games, the maverick Mario Balotelli was omitted (in favour of Antonio di Natale) for the win over England. This didn't stop the Manchester City forward from scoring a spectacular overhead kick however, before attempting to make a point to someone (anyone?) following his strike.
In the lead up to the game but both sides have exercised caution and have been keen to praise their respective opponents, suggesting a wariness from both the could translate into a cagey encounter where chances are at a premium. I expect a tight game, with neither side being able to get a grip of the game or dominate the other.
Goals may well be at a premium tomorrow evening with both defences expected to have the upper hand. One goal may well be enough to win the game and all eyes will be on the key players: Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo, Mario Balotelli? Who could be the difference maker for their side with semi-final berth at stake?