While Italy and England have both overcome long odds to reach this stage of the 2012 Euros, only one side will remain undefeated and move on from Sunday's Championship quarterfinal match. The two sides are well positioned, but it's the Azzurri who are better equipped to advance to the semifinals against Germany.
Italy possesses proven talent in tandem with untapped potential on both sides of the ball, along with enough versatility in the midfield to be a very dangerous team this year.
Striker Mario Balotelli will grace Italy's starting lineup against England, and the 21-year-old is undoubtedly one of the most talented Italian assets, but the enigmatic star too often does or says the wrong thing.
Last week he tried both, following up his game-clinching goal with an attempted verbal battery of the Irish sidelines. Balotelli was restrained and censored by teammate Leonardo Bonucci, successfully limiting any further carnage.
Balotelli's ability to temper his youthful vigor will be paramount to the Azzurri and their chance to win. If he can't make a positive impact on the field with his play, he must limit the negative influence he can have with his behavior.
"I'm going to give my all, then it's up to you to enjoy it or be angered by it," Balotelli said via SI.com. "Mario the person doesn't need to show anything to anyone. Those that know me know what I'm about."
On the other end of the age and maturation spectrum is Daniele De Rossi, Balotelli's 28-year-old Italian teammate.
"We keep saying how young he is, but he's really a (young) man now," said De Rossi of Balotelli.
De Rossi tried to downplay the youngster's negative qualities saying, ''I'm convinced he'll play this match without any problems. We're not worried about scandals, we're locked up in our hotel.''
The veteran presence of De Rossi helps counter Balotelli's unpredictability. The midfielder also represents Roma as a club captain and showered his English opponents in praise in the lead up to the game.
''When I think about, I've never really made an impact against an English squad,'' De Rossi said. ''But I've never faced England's national team—not even at the junior level. It's an honor to play against such a great squad. I've played in a lot of matches with the national team, so this gives me a new reason to get excited.'' Via MSN.FoxSports.com
If Balotelli and De Rossi can contribute their respective piece on Sunday, Italy should be a lock to move on to a slot in the final four.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!