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Saturday, 23 June 2012

Euro 2012: England v Italy - The History


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Since the first meeting between England and Italy back in 1933 the Azzuri just have the edge in the head-to head, winning nine of their 22 encounters to England's seven. But both sides have enjoyed periods of ascendancy in a rivalry that has rarely included matches at major tournament finals.

Sunday's quarter-final will be only the third time the nations have met at the finals of World Cup or Euros and one of those was effectively a dead rubber, when the teams met in the unloved Third Place play-off at the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Italy won that one with a Salvatore Schillaci penalty after David Platt (on a roll at that tournament) equalised Roberto Baggio's opener. In truth though, everyone just wanted things over after the desperate loss on penalties in the last four. The feeling was that both teams were better than Argentina and West Germany who had prevailed in the semis.

Unfortunately, Italy also won the other game at a tournament - though again it was in Italy - when they won 1-0 at the 1980 Euros. Marco Tardelli's goal settled a dour affair and England didn't get out of their group. Peter Shilton played in both matches.

England did take a modicum of revenge in 1997 when Glenn Hoddle's side came top of a World Cup qualifying group thanks to a disciplined performance in the away encounter. With Paul Gascoigne and Paul Ince each having excellent games in midfield England beat Italy at their own game and landed the 0-0 that sent the Azzuri into the play-offs.

Qualification was achieved despite losing the home game at Wembley. England were indebted to Georgia who held the Azzuri goalless and opened up the opportunity in Rome. Gianfranco Zola had scored the winner at Wembley which seemed to put Italy in the box seat.

Back in the 1970s before the World Cup Finals expanded, there were no second chances to qualify. Italy ended England's hopes of going to Argentina 78. In November 1976 England went down 2-0 in Rome in a match played on a midweek afternoon. Radios were smuggled into factories and schools across England only to listen in on the disappointment.

England won the return by the same score but by then the efficient Azzuri had locked up enough points and goals against the smaller fry to make the victory a hollow one. Between the two games Don Revie had resigned the manager's role and Ron Greenwood had restored some vigour to the side with Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking to the fore.

All the other encounters have been in minor tournaments or friendlies. An experimental England side delivered an amazing 3-2 win in a summer tournament in the USA in 1976, played in the Bronx. Mick Channon bagged a brace. England also beat Italy in the 1997 test competition for the 1998 World Cup. Goals from Ian Wright and Paul Scholes gave Hoddle's side confidence for the upcoming World Cup qualifier later in the year.

Before WW2 the rivalry was intense, as the Azzuri sought to overturn England's superiority as the founding nation of football. In 1934 there was a brutal game at Highbury which England won 3-2 and in 1939 in the last summer before war England came away from Rome with a 2-2.

After the war England were in their pomp and a legendary line-up delivered a 4-0 pasting in Torino in 1948, with Mortensen, Lawton and Finney the famous names sharing the goals. England won again in 1949 before two draws in the Fifties and a win for England in 1961 - thereafter the Italians established their edge.

By and large Italy have edged England in the most significant matches since the war winning both Finals games and the cut throat 1978 World Cup qualifying group. Under Glenn Hoddle England matched Italy for discipline and technical skill but the Blues won the friendlies in 2000 and 2002 - though the 2000 match saw a very young and experimental England squad skippered for the first time by David Beckham.

Calling all England fans. How do you think this Sunday's clash is going to end up? Can England knock the Italians out and set up their first semi-final clash for 16 years or will the Azzuri make it 10 competitive wins over the English? Whatever your view we'd love to hear from you.

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Hugh Larkin

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