It must be a strange feeling for the Azzuri – they scraped through to the top of their group playing efficient football without really looking like winning the tournament, they have been constantly troubled by the corruption scandals at home (13 of the 23 player-squad are from the 4 implicated clubs), they got through the second round courtesy of a dive, and now they have the easiest of the quarter-final ties.
The stage seems ripe for an upset – not by the Ukrainians, but by the Italians against their semi-final opponents. Whether Germany or Argentina meet them at Dortmund on the 4th, they must fancy their chances of getting to the final.
But what about Ukraine?
It seems unkind to be so dismissive, but Ukraine frankly don’t stand much of a chance. If they win, it will no doubt be accredited to their wonderful fighting spirit and ability to defy the odds. However, if anyone was unlucky enough to watch the second round match between Switzerland and Ukraine at Hannover they would testify to one thing – it was the most boring World Cup match so far, and what made it worse was that try as they might, neither side was able to score in the allotted 120 minutes (nor were they able to score off the first couple of penalties).
Despite the respect shown by the Azzuri, Pirlo and company will be looking to roll over Ukraine with a minimum of fuss
Going up against Switzerland – a tidy, tight defensive side is one thing, going up against the Italians is quite another. For all their troubles and quirks the Azzuri are feared not for their history, but for the amazing amounts of footballing talent they have at their disposal. Despite Nesta and Matterazi missing the quarter-final, Shevchenko will not relish going up against Cannavaro, who might take to man-marking the Chelsea striker with a view of denying Ukraine any goalscoring opportunities.
The stats (useless as they are), point squarely towards a hard-fought match to be decided by a single goal. Given Ukraine’s troubles in front of goal in the tournament (the only goal they’ve scored apart from the 4-0 defeat of Saudi Arabia is from a penalty that Shevchenko won thanks to a wonderful dive), expect Italy to look to control the game by sitting back and soaking up the pressure before hitting Ukraine on the counter through Pirlo and Totti linking up with the strikers.
Sheva and co will have to be at the top of their games, but even that may not matter in the end. There are few matches at this level that are decided before the match even begins – this is one of them.
For the record, I don’t think that Ukraine is a bad side. I do think, however, that Italy is too good for them.
Italy wins 2-0.