We do not expect there to be too much between these teams, but give a narrow advantage to the reigning European champions.
Back Italy to beat England in the Nations League on Friday (+150)
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The most memorable meeting between these two teams in the last year or so was, of course, the final of Euro 2020 (held in 2021). England took the lead within seconds of the kick-off at Wembley and looked to be headed for their first ever triumph in the European Championship. But Gareth Southgate’s side failed to press home their advantage and allowed Italy back into the game. Leonardo Bonucci leveled the scores in the second half, before the Azzurri triumphed in a penalty shoot-out. On the balance of play over 120 minutes, they were deserved winners.
Yet despite being the reigning kings of the continent, Italy will not be present at the 2022 World Cup later this year. The Azzurri only have themselves to blame, even if some members of the squad hit out at UEFA’s qualification format in the aftermath of their elimination. Roberto Mancini’s men finished second in their group after dropping points to Switzerland (twice), Bulgaria and Northern Ireland, then suffered an astonishing home defeat by North Macedonia in the semi-finals of the play-offs.
So whereas most major European nations will be partly using the upcoming Nations League fixtures as preparations for Qatar, Italy’s focus is set on the longer term. They still have a chance of qualifying for the Nations League Finals, scheduled to take place next June, but this competition does not yet have the prestige of the World Cup or the European Championship.
As such, Italy will not be taking part in a traditional summer tournament until Euro 2024 – presuming they do not fall short in qualifying for that competition. The Italian soccer federation has rightly retained faith in Mancini, who has already begun to look towards that tournament in two years’ time with a focus on youth and renewal.
Among English soccer supporters, opinion is split on Southgate. On the face of it that might seem strange. The former Middlesbrough boss led his country to the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time in a generation in 2018. He then took them to the brink of glory at Euro 2020, before which the Three Lions had never even reached the final of that competition.
Yet a return of two points from a possible 12 in the Nations League in June has seen the pressure build on Southgate, who faced particularly strong criticism after a stunning 4-0 home thrashing by Hungary. The England manager has a tendency towards caution that, his critics charge, has proved costly in key moments: namely the loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final and the defeat by Croatia at the World Cup two years earlier.
That is why England’s upcoming games against Italy and Germany are so crucial. It is not just that they are in danger of relegation to Group B in the Nations League, although that would be a blow.
The more significant factor is that, say, two defeats in the coming days would intensify the feeling of pessimism ahead of the World Cup, in which England are expected to go deep based on the strength of their squad. Two wins, conversely, would lift the mood and make it easier to attribute results in June to a minor blip.
Less memorable than the final of the most recent European Championship was the meeting between these two teams in June. It was not just forgettable because a dull match ended 0-0, but also because it took place in front of less than 2000 fans at Molineux, the home ground of Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers. Only schoolchildren were allowed to attend as England were punished for fan misbehavior at the Euro 2020 final.
Neutrals will hope for a more entertaining contest on Friday. There is certainly plenty on the line: with just five points separating first place from last in Group 3, qualification for the Finals and relegation are yet to be decided. However, defeat here for England would condemn them to League B, while a failure to win for Italy would harm their slim chances of progressing to the Finals.
This could be another low-scoring encounter, but we fancy Italy to edge out England. Home advantage could play a part, with Mancini’s men boasting a largely excellent record when playing in Italy (that 1-0 loss to North Macedonia was very much an aberration). There are some big question marks surrounding England right now, and Italy can make the most of that when the Euro 2020 finalists lock horns at Milan’s iconic San Siro stadium.
|Teams||Italy vs England|
|Location||San Siro, Milan, Italy|
|Time||Friday, 23 September 2022, 14.45 PM EST|
|How to watch||fuboTV|
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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