England will face Italy in the Euro 2012 quarterfinals under the direction of an unusual British manager: one with a wide range of experience in European football.
If, as it has been argued, England benefited from Hodgson's thorough knowledge of Swedish football to capture their first-ever competitive win over Sweden, then can his experience in Serie A help England overcome Italy in the quarterfinals?
Even specialist knowledge of opponents only goes so far at the elite level. Giovanni Trappatoni has intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Italian team, but that didn't help his scrappy Republic of Ireland overcome them in the final Group C first-round game. Ireland did manage to give Italy some scares, though in the end, the gulf in class inevitably won out.
That gulf is slimmer between England and Italy. This England vs. Italy quarterfinal is potentially a tight matchup that could turn on a single goal—or, to take the stereotypical Italian approach, a single mistake.
That's why Hodgson and his technical team are taking no chances and have scrambled to provide the players with as much information on the Italians as possible, including details on their penalty-takers.
This alone shows a refreshing approach for a country whose players did not even bother practising penalties going into World Cup 1998, according to former manager Glenn Hoddle.
This is a clue to the qualities that may actually give Hodgson an advantage. It may be too glib to suggest that two semi-successful seasons at Inter Milan nearly two decades ago and a more recent but unsuccessful and truncated spell at Udinese give Hodgson some unmatched kind of insight into Italian football.
The reality is that his years there, as well as in Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and Norway, have shaped an approach that emphasizes meticulous planning and organization, as well as tactical discipline on the field.
The approach is certainly familiar to Italians. According to the Guardian, Italy midfielder Daniele de Rossi characterized England as "a very Italian team." Gianfranco Zola, the former Chelsea legend, told Gazzetta dello Sport (per the Guardian): "Hodgson's England are a little less 'English.' I've watched them play a 4-4-2 with a lot of pressing, taking greater care to ensure that there's less space between the lines than usual."
Roy Hodgson's managerial successes have generally come from coaxing effective, coherent performances from limited teams. Whether England can overcome the inclination to ignore their limitations in headless-chicken pursuit of bravura remains to be seen, but if they can stick to the game plan, they will have a chance to squeeze out a result against Italy.
And that would be largely thanks to Hodgson's experience, in Italy and elsewhere.
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