Copy of 2023-03-22T102538Z_542946122_UP1EJ3M0SYN4T_RTRMADP_3_SOCCER-EURO-ITA-ENG-PREVIEW-1679486122579
England captain Harry Kane (centre) during a training session with the England squad at St George's Park, Burton upon Trent, Britain. Image Credit: REUTERS

Dubai: In Thursday’s Euro 2024 qualifying Group C opener, Italy will welcome England to the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona, taking the first step towards defending their continental crown.

The Azzurri famously defeated the Three Lions on penalties in the Euro 2020 final, dashing England’s hopes of bringing football home. However, since then, Roberto Mancini’s champions have lost their sparkle and are looking to rekindle their winning form.

Italy’s recent failures include their loss to North Macedonia in the playoff semi-final, which kept them from appearing in the World Cup finals in Qatar. It was the second time in a row that they missed out. They also suffered a 3-0 defeat to Argentina in the Finalissima last year but despite these setbacks, Italy’s recent victories in the Nations League have raised hopes for a successful Euro 2024 campaign.

40 games unbeaten

Their remarkable feats in Euro qualifiers are well-documented. They have won each of their last 14 qualification games and are unbeaten in 40 since losing 3-1 to France in 2006. Furthermore, it has been 24 years since the reigning continental champions last lost a Euro qualifier on home soil, suffering a 3-2 beating to Denmark in 1999. The unforgiving Naples atmosphere will be sure to play its part in the hosts’ effort to extend this stunning streak.

England, on the other hand, experienced yet another quarter-final exit in Qatar, missing out on yet another opportunity at silverware. Manager Gareth Southgate’s future has come under scrutiny, but the FA continues to place their faith in him to end 57 years of hurt.

The Three Lions have won 17 of their last 18 Euros qualifying matches, with the outlier being a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic in October 2019. Southgate could reach a landmark number of victories if the Three Lions leave Naples with all three points in the bag, becoming only the third England manager to claim 50 victories, after Sir Alf Ramsey and Walter Winterbottom. However, England are winless in their last six showdowns with Italy in all tournaments, with the most recent being a forgettable 2022-23 Nations League run.

Both teams will be missing key players due to injuries. Italy’s Federico Chiesa, Federico Dimarco, and Ivan Provedel have all departed the camp with Emerson Palmieri and Marco Carnesecchi stepping in. Carnesecchi is one of four uncapped players called up by Mancini for March’s fixtures.

Injury concerns

Similarly, England’s Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount, and Nick Pope have all pulled out with injuries. Fraser Forster has come in to replace Pope, while Brentford striker Ivan Toney returns to the ranks despite admitting to breaching betting rules. However, none of Ben White, Raheem Sterling, Trent Alexander-Arnold, or Callum Wilson have forced their way into the squad this time.

This could be a cagey, low-scoring affair with both teams wishing to avoid a confidence-sapping defeat early on. Rustiness may be a theme for both sets of players, given the few months since they last linked up with their compatriots.

Italy’s attacking absences may make it challenging for them to extend their victorious qualifying home run, but the hostile Naples atmosphere may yet inspire the Azzurri to a win.