Goalkeeper Joe Hart could be
England's key player as they bid to end their quarter-final
hoodoo when they meet Italy, captain Steven Gerrard said on the
eve of Sunday's game.
England face Italy in Kiev's Olympic Stadium with a
semi-final against Germany the prize for the winners, and
Gerrard believes Hart could play a crucial role in what is
likely to be an even contest.
England have not reached the semi-final of a World Cup or
European Championship since 1996 and have lost three
quarter-finals in recent years at the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004
and the 2006 World Cup.
Gerrard, who played in the 2004 and 2006 defeats, told
reporters on Saturday: "I think in Joe Hart we have got one of
the best keepers in the world and I think he will become the
best in the world.
"His performances so far in the tournament have been
"He is one of our key players. We need Joe to perform to the
maximum level because at some time in the game tomorrow, maybe
during extra time, or penalties, he is going to be called upon
to make a fantastic save - and we all trust he can do that."
Hart, 25, has played 21 times for England and is now
established as the first choice keeper in a team trying to end a
long period without success.
One of the players Hart may have to face is his Manchester
City team-mate Mario Balotelli, who came off the bench and
scored against Ireland in the group stage last Monday.
"Mario Balotelli is a brilliant player, a very dangerous
player and a player we have to take extra care of if he's
selected to play," said Gerrard.
"We watch him week-in week-out in the premiership scoring
goals and getting assists, we are aware of all his skills and a
lot of our players know him very well and hopefully we can
contain him tomorrow night."
Balotelli, talking to the media minutes later added: "I
think its going to be fun playing against my team mates. They
know me and I know them so I hope they are going to be nice.
They may be my team mates, but I hope they are going to lose."
Gerrard added that the England players did not need any
motivation to lift their game against Italy because reaching the
knockout stage in a major competition is always special.
"Our level of performance so far in the tournament has given
us confidence and belief. In previous tournaments we have gone
out and not performed at the level we are capable of.
"But we have got stronger as this tournament has gone on so,
hopefully, that will be the same tomorrow night.
"We are all well aware of how big the game is and what is
"The atmosphere among the squad has been superb and it is
important that all the players seize this opportunity because,
from experience, games like this don't come around very often.
"It's important we give everything out there and we show to
all our doubters and our critics that we can compete with the
Roy Hodgson, who has guided England to four wins and a draw
in five matches since taking over last month from Italian Fabio
Capello, brought a few wry smiles from reporters when he
answered a number of questions in fluent Italian.
Answering one, he said, "We are very impressed by Italy as
is everyone. It seems that [coach] Cesare Prandelli has done a
very good job with his squad and they have a lovely mix of
youth, experience and they have got a lot of athleticism.
"For us the most important thing is we have to try and
control the game if we can, and take it by the scruff of the
neck, because we know if Italy get the chance to control the
game then it could be a very long night for us."
Bayern fans snap up 45,000 tickets to watch Champions League final live at Allianz Arena
When Sir Alex wakes up on Monday morning without team to manage, he will not be putting his feet up
Paris Saint-Germain midfielder announces he will be retiring at the end of the current season
Record goal-scorer signs a one-year contract extension with Europa League winners Chelsea
Ten years on, the legends speak to FFT
Your questions answered by an A to Z of legends
He's here, he's there, he's...
The cost of Premier League away travel
Nike CR7 IX for you
FourFourTwo is brought to you by Haymarket Consumer Media & FourFourTwo is part of Haymarket Sport
| International Licensing | © Haymarket Media Group 2010