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Analysis: Return to Rome Part I - Ahead of their Euro 2012 quarter-final, Goal.com compares the modern-day XIs of England and Italy to those involved in 1997's bloody battle

Analysis: Return to Rome Part I - Ahead of their Euro 2012 quarter-final, Goal.com compares the modern-day XIs of England and Italy to those involved in 1997's bloody battle

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As two European heavyweights prepare to face off for a place in the Euro 2012 semi-finals, Goal.com's Iain Strachan looks back at the last time they met with the stakes so high

ANALYSIS
By Iain Strachan

We have all seen the iconic image - Paul Ince's bandaged head, his white England shirt dyed red like the away strip by the torrent of blood pouring from his skull.

But where and when was this claret-soaked portrait, the embodiment of English physicality, captured?

The answer is during the last competitive encounter between England and Italy, a FIFA World Cup qualifier in October 1997.

Needing at least a point if they were to top their group and avoid the dreaded playoffs, England booked their place in France 1998 with a battling 0-0 draw at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome.

The two countries lock horns in high-stakes action again on Sunday, with a place in the semi-finals of the Euro 2012 the prize on offer.

In the 15 years which have passed between the two meetings, the English Premier League has risen to become the most-watched and wealthiest domestic competition in the world.

By contrast, Serie A - the pre-eminent league in the world during the early 1990s - has fallen into decline, wracked by corruption, fan violence and falling attendances.

But how do the two teams compare?  From the 22 players who walked out in the Italian capital, to the men who will go head to head at the Olympic Stadium, Kiev, who would make your starting XI?

Check out part one of our comparison below.  How would you compare the Italy's two XIs?  Have your say below!

FROM 1997 to 2012 - HOW ITALY COMPARE
ITALY v ENGLAND, 1998 WC QUALIFIER

Peruzzi
Nesta, Costacurta, Cannavaro, Maldini
Di Livio, Baggio, Albertini
Zola
Inzaghi, Vieri
ITALY v ENGLAND, EURO 2012 (LIKELY)

Buffon
Abate, Barzagli, Bonucci, Balzaretti
Thiago Motta
Marchisio, Pirlo, De Rossi
Cassano, Di Natale

GOALKEEPER

Angelo Peruzzi v Gianluigi Buffon

Peruzzi lined up for Roma, Verona, Inter Milan and Lazio during his distinguished career, but it was at Juventus where he played the bulk of his football, winning three Serie A crowns and the Champions League.

Buffon succeeded him at the Old Lady and for the Azzurri, with a veteran Peruzzi serving as understudy to Buffon during Italy's 2006 World Cup triumph.

Both excellent goalkeepers in their own right, Buffon is still only 34, and with 325 league appearances for Juve and more than 100 Italy caps to his name, he earns the gloves on longevity and consistency.

DEFENCE

Alessandro Nesta v Ignazio Abate 

No competition here, as serial winner Nesta - still playing last season at 36 but in his blossoming youth in 1997 - leaves his AC Milan successor in the shade. 

Paolo Maldini v Andrea Barzagli

An almost insulting comparison between a modern colossus of the game, all-time AC Milan great Maldini, and the workmanlike Juve player.

Alessandro Costacurta v Leonardo Bonucci*

Only slightly less of a disparity, the super-reliable Costacurta almost matched Milan colleague Maldini for longevity, and would easily warrant a place ahead of Juve's Bonucci.

Fabio Cannavaro v Federico Balzaretti

The embarrassing gap of talent between defences old and new is complete, with 2006 World Cup winning captain and Ballon d'Or recipient Cannavaro streets ahead of the Palermo player.

MIDFIELD

Demetrio Albertini v Andrea Pirlo

A titanic struggle between two of AC Milan's greatest midfielders. Albertini was instrumental in Milan's accumulation of five Serie A titles and three Champions League crowns during their all-conquering reign in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Pirlo has two less league titles and one less Champions League to his name, but can boast the coveted World Cup. Albertini by inches.

Dino Baggio v Thiago Motta

Another close call. Late-blooming Brazil-born Motta has moved from Barcelona to Atletico Madrid and on to Genoa and Inter before becoming a key man at Milan.  Now with Paris Saint-Germain, he and has only just embarked on his Italy career after earning a first call-up in 2011. A consistent performer for Parma and Italy, Baggio had less talent but more international caps, with 60 to his name. Motta shades it on skill.

Angelo Di Livio v Daniele De Rossi

Di Livio worked tirelessly for the great Juve side, which won three Serie A titles and the Champions League during the 1990s, and he will be remembered fondly in Florence after staying with Fiorentina throughout their bankruptcy and slow climb back through the divisions. Equally hard-working but arguably more talented, De Rossi is a successor in waiting to 'Mr Roma' himself, Francesco Totti. A World Cup winner in 2006, De Rossi has suffered the pain of five runner-up finishes in Serie A, and edges out Di Livio, but only just.

Gianfranco Zola v Claudio Marchisio

Oh dear, this is not fair. Somewhat unappreciated on home soil, Zola found his niche at Chelsea, where he was voted the club's greatest-ever player after seven years lighting up the English Premier League. A more than capable, energetic midfielder, Marchisio has established himself as a key man at Juve, and there is no shame in falling short of Zola's magical standards. Zola, easy.

FORWARDS

Filippo Inzaghi v Antonio Di Natale

Two serial goal-scorers with an age difference of just four years.

The older of the two, Inzaghi, has carved out a career in the modern era as an old-fashioned poacher with Juve and Milan, winning three Serie A titles, two Champions League and the 2006 World Cup. He will always be remembered as the man described by Sir Alex Ferguson as 'born offside'.

With an extraordinary return of 135 goals in 264 league appearances for Udinese since 2004, Di Natale is a more rounded player than Inzaghi but never made the move to one of the country's powerhouse clubs. Di Natale gets the nod.

Christian Vieri v Antonio Cassano

The parallels here are uncanny, with two bad boys at the head of the attack. Cassano had talent in abundance when he burst onto the scene at Bari and Roma. Failed to settle amid disciplinary problems at Real Madrid, and his goal-scoring return has never justified his uncanny capacity for finding or causing trouble, on and off the field.

Fellow problem child Vieri also had an unreasonable amount of natural ability, but never stayed at one club long enough to truly deliver. An impressive haul of 103 goals in 143 Serie A matches for Inter between 1999 and 2005 earns him the start in our generational super team.

THE BEST OF THE BEST

GOALKEEPER

BUFFON

RIGHT-BACK
CENTRE BACK
CENTRE BACK
LEFT-BACK

NESTA

COSTACURTA

CANNAVARO

MALDINI


CENTRE MIDFIELD
CENTRE MIDFIELD
CENTRE MIDFIELD

ALBERTINI

THIAGO MOTTA

DE ROSSI

ATTACKING MIDFIELD

ZOLA

CENTRE FORWARD
CENTRE FORWARD

VIERI

DI NATALE

The 1997 vintage dominates, comprising the entire back four and seven players in total. Buffon is the only modern player who justifies his selection with any degree of comfort, while Pirlo and De Livio can considers themselves unfortunate to miss out from their respective generations. 

* Italy's modern starting XI taken from their 2-0 Group C win over the Republic of Ireland, with Leonardo Bonucci replacing Giorgio Chiellini, who will miss the quarter-final against England due to injury.

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