Not many things seem to link together English and Italian football but both teams had a shocking World Cup and find themselves on the comeback trail, and with the expanded Euro 2016 format, both should stroll through.
England managed to swipe away some awkward questions with a well deserved win over Switzerland last night and the Azzuri should find that they have less trouble taking on Norway and can kickstart Antonio Conte’s competitive reign at the head of Italy. Cesare Prandelli’s resignation after a dreadful World Cup was not to be expected but it would be unwise to rate Italy too harshly upon those three games with their crunch tie against Urugay having been turned on it’s head by a red card for Claudio Marchisio. Italy played some fine football against England in Manaus but suffered badly for their exertions in the heat – as did Roy Hodgson’s men – and the results have shown the debilitating effect of matches in that intense climate on teams performances since, and had also faced Costa Rica in a lunchtime kickoff with Urugay having played England in the evening at a much cooler Sao Paolo.
Prandelli’s tactical versatility is one of his greatest endearments but too much tinkering became a problem for Italy in the last two years with a whole range of line-ups tried and tested. Under former Juventus man Antonio Conte there will be no messing about regarding the gameplan – the same high energy 3-5-2 he has used to dominate the Scudetto for the last three years with Juventus. He should have no problems getting upto speed with a squad that has the whole Juventus defence and key midfielder Claudio Marchisio in the likely starting elven and the hallmarks of his football were vident in a 2-0 friendly win over Holland – a change in attitude for non competitive Azzuri games – a game w
Norway, on the other hand, failed to make Brazil, finishing behind Slovenia and a point ahead of Albania, and they have won one of their last 12 matches. Included in that is a 3-0 loss to Poland on a friendly, who were fourth in England’s group for a comparison, and the they had even less quality than England in a tepid 1-0 friendly last week. The Azzuri have a mean qualifying record, and the quality to take all three points.
Holland were on the receiving end of a Conte masterclass last week but they should be far too good for the Cezch Republic and can kickstart Guus Hiddink’s spell. They went on a remarkable World Cup journey and in doing so beat Spain in that famous 5-1, also got the better of Chile, and went out on penalties to Argentina and then beat Brazil comfortably in their third place playoff.
The Netherlands had nothing to beat in their last qualifying group but the Czech Republic were hardly any more impressive in finishing third in what wasn’t exactly a high rent section, Italy apart, and at home they picked up just 5 points in the whole section, three of them coming against Malta. Even taking into account friendly form, a loss to an understrength USA side does not bode well for their prospects and the Dutch look value to take all three points.
2 pts Italy (5/6 Bet Victor)
4 pts Holland (evs Coral)