England – Italy Preview: Three Lions and Azzurri clash to set up Euro 2012 semi-final date with Germany
ENGLAND Hart Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole Milner, Gerrard, Parker, Young Rooney, Welbeck ITALY Buffon Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Balzaretti De Rossi, Pirlo, Marchisio Montolivo Balotelli, Cassano England are on a high after two consecutive wins to emerge top of Group D and Wayne Rooney will lead the line again after he returned to score the only goal in the triumph over Ukraine, despite not looking particularly impressive. Meanwhile, winger Ashley Young is winning his race for fitness after taking a knock to the shin in that match, so coach Roy Hodgson is likely to stick with the same starting XI that featured in Donetsk, although Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will be hoping to pip James Milner to a place on the right wing. At the back, defender Glen Johnson is being treated with antibiotics for a toe infection, but that should not keep him out the last four clash on Sunday. On the other side, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli is likely to stick with the 4-3-1-2 formation he utilised during the victory over Ireland rather than the 3-5-2 seen in the draws with Spain and Croatia. However, he will definitely have to leave out centre-back Giorgio Chiellini, who is suffering with a thigh problem he aggravated in the 2-0 win over Republic of Ireland and is now likely to miss the remainder of the tournament, should the Azzurri advance. Thiago Motta is a slight doubt after suffering from muscle fatigue and skipping a recent training session, and could be replaced by Alessandro Diamanti or Riccardo Montolivo in the role of No.10 if not passed fit. Up front, Mario Balotelli will come up against some of his Manchester City team-mates, as he is reinstated in the starting XI at the expense of Antonio Di Natale to partner Antonio Cassano, after scoring a spectacular volley in their previous match. No players are suspended for this match, but Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Milner, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Young (all England) as well as Balotelli, Federico Balzaretti, Leonardo Bonucci, Daniele De Rossi, Christian Maggio, Montolivo, Thiago Motta and Gianluigi Buffon (all Italy) are one booking away from a semi-final suspension should their team progress. England have only won one of their last nine meetings with Italy and have an overall record of W6 D7 L9 against them. Rooney’s winner against Ukraine was his 29th for the national team and he needs just one more to become the country’s joint-fifth top scorer of all-time level with Tom Finney, Nat Lofthouse and Alan Shearer. Left-back Cole holds the England record for number of appearances without a goal, currently at 97 caps. The Three Lions were one of only two teams (the other being Greece) in the group stage not to have an opponent waved offside. Italy defeated England 2-1 at World Cup 1990 in the third-place playoff match. Antonio Di Natale is the Italy player with the highest number of goals (11) for the national team in the squad. Antonio Cassano, Daniele De Rossi, and Andrea Pirlo are all on 10. At the quarter-final stage in major tournaments, Italy have only been eliminated on two occasions out of nine, both times on penalty kicks. Prandelli has yet to lose a competitive match while in charge of Italy, recording nine wins and four draws since taking over in 2010.