'Humble' England are favourites against Italy, says Maradona

Former Argentina striker believes the Three Lions have a good chance of reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2012 but warns Roy Hodgson's side not to underestimate the Azzurri

Diego Maradona believes England are favourites to beat Italy because they’ve become more "humble" compared to recent years and tournaments.

The Three Lions have often been noted as one of the favourites of each competition they’ve entered in the past, but with only the World Cup in 1966 as their only successful tournament.

However, the former Napoli striker feels there’s been a change in the attitude of the England team this year and believes it could help them on the pitch, although he warned Roy Hodgson's men of the threat Italy can pose.

Maradona wrote in The Times of India: “The English are slightly favoured because they appear concentrated and humble for once, but never underestimate the Azzurri, who like in 1982 against us Argentines turned their fortunes around suddenly to win the World Cup in Spain.”

16/1 To score two or more
10/1 To celebrate with a t-shirt
18/1 To be sent off

The 51-year-old believes the clash between England and Italy will come down to the key players who perform the best under pressure.

“For England to advance to the semi-finals will be a validation of their talented players like Wayne Rooney, James Milner, Steven Gerrard and John Terry and their superior club league structure," he explained. "The Italians will have to rely on their own talents like Andrea Pirlo, Antonio Cassano, Gianluigi Buffon and Daniele De Rossi to reach an unexpected semi-final.

“Italy's best player, Pirlo, has been superb. Like an orchestra conductor every ball goes to him and he distributes it with flair and intelligence. Aided by Marchisio,De Rossi and Thiago Motta, Pirlo will dictate Italy's fortunes. There will be several key individual battles to watch out for in this crucial and exciting match.”

Maradona feels England have benefitted from the absence of Frank Lampard, who was ruled out of the tournament after picking up an injury during training. The Al Wasl coach believes this has helped Three Lions captain Steven Gerrard stamp his mark on the tournament.

He said: “Roy Hodgson, only recently installed as coach, had his work simplified when Chelsea's Lampard withdrew with an injury. This allowed him to give the keys to the team to Liverpool’s Gerrard, who has stepped up to the plate with character and intelligence.”

The former Argentina coach thinks the negativity surrounding the Three Lions before the tournament has eased the pressure on the team, allowing them to play freely and to their best.

“This is a comfortable English team, experienced and yet with explosive firepower up front. For once little was expected of them at the outset and Roy Hodgson may yet surprise the skeptical English press and England’s own supporters,” he said.

England's clash with Italy in Kiev on Sunday kicks off at 20:45CET, with Germany waiting in the semi-finals.