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Euro 2012: Spain Cruise, Previewing England v. Italy

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Only one day left of quarterfinal action, and it's the one that everyone who likes two rigid banks of four and aimless hoofing and brave defending and 1966 has waited for. Today's third quarterfinal--and its second half specifically--provided a side dish of boring to prepare us for tomorrow's entree of delicious anti-football. It's worth a quick look back, though, before we get to previewing England's match with Italy in Kiev.

Spain 2, France 0
Alonso 19', (pen) 90+1'

The first half included--to the enjoyment of most--a slightly different Spanish approach than we'd seen from them in the tournament to this point. Their patient, possession-based style remained, but the opening minutes were marked by a far more attack-minded display from Vicente del Bosque's squad. France were mostly an afterthought (which was appropriate given the eleven that Laurent Blanc selected) as Spain pushed forward time and again, and just before the twenty minute mark Spain got the only goal they needed.

Andres Iniesta played in Jordi Alba down the left flank, and after he skipped past a defender he floated a terrific ball to the far post, where an unmarked Xabi Alonso powered a header back across goal and beyond both Gael Clichy and Hugo Lloris. The rest of the half was Spain's, as they were able to dictate play against an opposition that looked as though they were mostly just trying to hang on.

When France finally made their changes it proved to be too late, despite the fact that they actually looked threatening--at least as far as second half standards of threatening went--once Hatem Ben Arfa, Samir Nasri, and Jeremy Menez joined the action. An equalizer never came, however, and when Pedro was hacked down by Anthony Reveirelle, all that was left to kill the match off once and for all was a Xabi Alonso penalty. The man earning his 100th cap made no mistake, sending the French home with their tails between their legs and his country on to an Iberian semifinal.

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England v. Italy
Saturday 7:45PM BST/2:45PM EST

This has been a strange year for Liverpool supporters when it comes to having a vested interest in international competition--with Dirk Kuyt leaving and Daniel Agger the only non-English player in the competition (besides Pepe Reina, who's probably going to get lots and lots of action), we're left shifting our club loyalties almost solely to the England national team. With Roy Hodgson at the helm and nearly as many unlikely characters as the Portuguese (if not more), it's made for an uncomfortable viewing experience at times. But with pickings slim on the Liverpool front, following the English squad more closely has proven better than nothing, if for no other reason than to be able to gloat when others start to bitch about just how dire it is to watch a Hodgson-managed side in action.

Comparatively speaking, the Italians have been enjoyable for much of the tournament, managing to string together mostly positive performances in the group stages, even though they only took one win away from their three matches. The biggest news in terms of personnel for Cesare Prandelli's squad is that Giorgio Chiellini's been ruled out with a thigh injury, leaving a hole in an Italian defense that's already called on Daniele De Rossi to deputize in the middle.

The absence of Chiellini is a big one, but there's plenty of experience and talent that could prove to turn the match in Italy's favor, as Gigi Buffon has again led from the back in his 613th year of international competition, and further forward Andrea Pirlo has played an important (and fully expected) role in ticking play along. He chipped in with one of the goals of the group stage with his free kick against Croatia, but goals have otherwise proved hard to come by, and Prandelli will have to choose from Mario Balotelli, Antonio di Natale, and Antonio Cassano to find them.

For England:

Johnson Terry Lescott Cole
Milner Gerrard Parker Young
Welbeck Rooney

I'm still hopeful that Andy Carroll will have a part to play tomorrow, particularly as Danny Welbeck didn't have his most effective display in attack last time out. I think Welbeck's a solid talent and obviously has a more developed understanding with Wayne Rooney, but I still think that Carroll--at least on current form--is in a better spot to have a more pronounced influence on a match. He's got his share of limitations, and could only encourage a hoof-prone side to do even more, but between his work rate, ability in the air, and seemingly high level of confidence, I'd prefer he get the nod ahead of Welbeck. But Welbeck to start with Rooney and etc. just because, okay?

It's no secret that the most important component of a Roy Hodgson side is the two banks of four sitting behind the 1-1 pairing or 2 in attack, and so far they've been both consistent and serviceable. Steven Gerrard's been the player of the tournament for England and carried the water alongside Scott Parker, and James Milner has done enough running to confuse both himself and the opposition into thinking that he could be a threat. The back four have been effective as well, with Glen Johnson the pick of the lot both going forward and defensively, and Joe Hart, despite a few wobbles early, has had a good tournament thus far.

There's been plenty of talk that the two sides will cancel each other out, but if you've been paying attention, there's little chance that Italy will contribute much to suffocating the pace of play. That's England's job, and it's one they've done very well. They'll strive to do so again tomorrow, and unless Italy can scrape an early goal, we probably can't expect anything resembling exciting. The match against Sweden turned out that way because England not only allowed an equalizer but went a goal down, forcing everything to start on fire and demanding that people run forward quickly and take shots and try things in attack and oh dear, I'm all sweaty. This probably won't be the case tomorrow. At least the exciting part. The sweating's sort of been an ongoing issue.

We're going to go ahead and run a committed match thread given that there's actual Liverpool interest involved, so I'll be running that a few hours before kickoff. In the meantime, have a couple drinks, make sure you're in a place where nobody can hear you, and float back to Noel's post from earlier in the day and have that cry he suggested.

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