A coach who can speak Italian with an intimate knowledge of Serie A after managing one of its leading clubs is plotting the downfall of Italy in Euro 2012. That man is Englishman Roy Hodgson and not Italian Fabio Capello,who could have been leading England against his own nation if he had not quit in February.
Although it is impossible to know whether Capello would have steered England through as group winners,it is intriguing that Hodgson is now responsible for trying to knock Italy out in Sundays quarter-final in Kiev. For he,more than most,understands the chasm and the culture clash between the soccer philosophies of the two countries.
Although he possesses old-fashioned English charm and modesty,an important part of Hodgsons football education was enriched during two spells at Inter Milan in the late 1990s. He did not win a trophy but he did take Inter to the 1997 UEFA Cup final which they lost on penalties to Schalke 04 and he is one of the few Englishmen in recent times to work in Italy and enjoy a modicum of success.
Adding to the irony,two of the most successful managers in England at the moment are Italians Roberto Mancini,who has just coached Manchester City to their first English title since 1968 and Roberto di Matteo who guided Chelsea to the FA Cup and Champions League title last month.
England and Italy may be among Europes most dominant soccer nations but their footballing paths have crossed relatively infrequently in major competitions since Englishmen formed the first Italian club in Genoa in 1893. Sundays meeting will only their third in a major tournament following Italys 1-0 win in the 1980 European Championship and the Azzurris 2-1 victory in the third-place playoff at the 1990 World Cup.
Their only other World Cup meetings were in qualifiers for the 1978 and 1998 tournaments and they have not crossed paths since a friendly in Leeds 10 years ago which Italy won 2-1. So Sundays match represents a rare coming together of two great rivals who share a great love of defending but have few other similarities.
While England are happy grinding out victories and relying on the long ball game if necessary,Italians increasingly want to see attractive football combined with defensive solidity. The rise of Latin rivals Spain and their tiki taka has led Italy to lust after a similar style even if the players are not yet capable of achieving it and still have a tendency to drop back when 1-0 up,a bit like the English.
Gianluigi Buffon and Joe Hart are arguably the best two goalkeepers at the tournament and have similar philosophies of holding on to the ball as often as possible and rarely punching it.