by Tom Allen
The most intriguing of all four quarter-finals comes on Sunday night and it
should be worth the wait.
The bookmakers cannot split England or Italy ahead of their clash in Kiev,
it's 19/10 the pair, and I am in complete agreement with the odds compilers that
this looks a coin toss between the two great nations.
You'll only be offered 2/1 about the draw, as short as that eventuality gets,
and we could well be in for a nerve-shredding evening that goes well beyond 90
minutes if the prices are correct.
Expectations were pretty low for both ahead of the finals, England's in
particular, but each survived tough groups, emerging with unbeaten records in
the process, and a place in the last four is now within touching distance.
Under Roy Hodgson England topped Group D thanks to wins over Sweden, having
trailed, and Ukraine after an opening 1-1 draw with the French and confidence is
growing all the time.
The goal-scoring return of previously suspended Wayne Rooney versus the
co-hosts gave the side another lift, the Manchester United man could have had a
hat-trick, and Hodgson seemingly has England playing effective tournament
football for the first time in living memory.
Effective tournament football has been the hallmark of Italy's recent
successes, World Cup winners in 2006 and runners-up in this competition 12 years
ago, and while they lack a galaxy of stars, playmaker Andrea Pirlo keeps things
ticking over superbly.
The Juventus man enjoyed a terrific season for his club and, while England
possess the contest's best finisher in Rooney, Italy might just about have the
edge in midfield, the area of the pitch where Pirlo is often so influential.
This encounter also features two of the best goalkeepers on display at the
finals, in Joe Hart and Gigi Buffon, and both could well have crucial roles to
play in a penalty shootout should it go that far.
England and Italy have suffered their own degrees of heartache from 12 yards
in recent years but I'm not bothered about that when there is cash to be made
and the 9/2 for this to be resolved from the spot is too big.
With the odds of extra-time being required in mind, just 2/1 remember,
winners in the additional 30 minutes are rare and the price discrepancy is
1pt Back Match To Be Decided By Penalties (England vs. Italy) @ 9/2 (Bet