Roy Hodgson is as successful of an England manager as Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello. He's arguably just as successful as Terry Venables, whose semifinal appearance at Euro 1996 came on home soil. The last time a manager took an England team to a major semifinal anywhere but England was when Bobby Robson did it at the 1990 World Cup. Robson and Alf Ramsey are the only England managers to take the team to a major semifinal off of home soil.
The degree to which England has underachieved in international football, especially through their so-called Golden Generation of the late 1990s and 2000s, is incredible. The England team that Hodgson is coaching now doesn't have Michael Owen, David Beckham, Frank Lampard or Rio Ferdinand in their primes. This is a team that, quite simply, isn't that great, and they've done pretty well to make the quarterfinals. They've done it through some great individual efforts, but mostly through Hodgson's implicit admission that England isn't that good and his subsequent tactical decisions. If they get past Italy on Sunday, Hodgson will be almost indisputably the best England manager since Ramsey, with one of the worst England teams since the 1970s.
Coincidentally, he's facing what might be the worst Italy team since the mid-1980s, which is hardly an insult. Italy won a World Cup, and went to two World Cup semifinals and was a European runner-up between 1990 and 2006. The man widely believed to be their best defender was the reason for Croatia's equalizer in the group stage, and one of his backups played in Serie B last season. Their top performer is 33-year-old Andrea Pirlo, and they're currently using a defensive midfielder as a No. 10. This is not your father's dominant azzurri.
This has been billed as the most boring of the four quarterfinals because both teams are likely to play a conservative style of football, but now that the other three quarterfinals have passed, can anyone still say that with a straight face? Unlike the other three quarterfinals, this match should feature two similarly talented teams, trying to accomplish similar goals. This game won't be played entirely in one half with an obviously superior team in control, which almost makes it inherently more interesting than the previous three matches, even if it's played to a 0-0 draw.
That is what you should expect, by the way. Nothing too aggressive from either team, both content for a 0-0. That doesn't mean that's how it's going to play out, however, because both teams have players who can change the game in an instant. Andrea Pirlo's through balls, the insta-goal qualities of Mario Balotelli and Wayne Rooney and the abilities of both teams on set pieces could turn a defensive stalemate into a dramatic encounter.
Projected Italy Lineup (4-3-1-2): Gianluigi Buffon; Federico Balzaretti, Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci, Ignazio Abate; Daniele De Rossi, Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio; Thiago Motta; Antonio Cassano, Mario Balotelli
Monty the Psychic Metal Disk says: 0-0, Italy on penalties.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, June 24, 2:45 p.m. ET, 8:45 p.m. local
Venue: Lviv Stadium, Lviv, Ukraine
TV: ESPN (U.S. - English), ESPN Deportes (U.S. - Spanish), BBC One (U.K.), TSN (Canada)
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