The knockout stages at Euro 2020 get underway on Saturday, with Wembley welcoming Group A winners Italy and Group C runners-up Austria in the late game.
The flawless Italians will be looking to keep their chariots charging towards a semi-final return to London in 10 days’ time, but they must first overcome Franco Foda’s side.
Die Burschen booked their place in the Last 16 with a 1-0 victory over Ukraine in Matchday 3, and will be looking to spring an upset to back book a quarter-final fixture with either Belgium or Portugal in Munich.
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They’ll be glad to welcome enigmatic 21-year-old Christoph Baumgartner back to the side after he was substituted following a head injury in their final group game, and will hope that Frankfurt defender Martin Hinteregger – who’s a doubt with a muscle injury – is fit enough to start this crucial game.
It still isn’t really clear whether Foda knows what his best side is, with captain David Alaba occupying three separate positions throughout the group stages, and that indecision is the last thing you’ll want against this Italy side.
A 1-0 victory over Wales in Matchday Three – in which they were able to rest several key starters – means the Azzurri are now unbeaten in 30 consecutive games (team record), and have won each of their last 11 internationals ‘to nil’.
Roberto Mancini’s side have lit up the Euros so far, becoming the first team ever to win all three group games without conceding, and many will be expecting them to carry on that impressive form with a routine victory over an Austria side that hasn’t beaten them in 13 consecutive attempts.
The Man in the Middle
Taking control of this one is English referee Anthony Taylor, who has officiated two games at the competition so far.
The Mancunian, who was widely commended for his handling of Christian Eriksen’s collapse, took charge of Denmark 0-1 Finland and Portugal 2-4 Germany. He gave two bookings in each game, as well as awarding a penalty to Denmark in the first match.
Taylor is renowned for his willingness to point to the spot, giving 18 penalties in 31 games across the Premier League and Champions League.
A Penalty To Be Awarded is 9/4.
Given what we’ve seen from them in the tournament so far, it comes as no surprise to see that Italy are favourites to progress from this tie.
I have to say I agree with the general perception too. The Azzurri were by far the better side in the Group Stages, and it’s why I fancy Italy to Win to Nil at 5/4.
I spoke above about how Mancini’s side have won eleven consecutive games ‘to-nil’ and, frankly, they haven’t looked like conceding at the tournament yet.
The Austrians have failed to score in four of their last six games in all competitions, and the Italians have more than enough to stifle them – even without Giorgio Chiellini.
Along those same lines, Austria Under 9.5 Shots caught my eye at 8/11 with Unibet. Italy’s opponents have failed to pass this mark in eight consecutive games, with Mancini’s side allowing an average of just 5.1 shots per game in that time.
I’ll also be trying my luck with a 5/1 BetBuilder at bet365; HT: Draw, FT: Italy and Italy Over 12.5 Free-Kicks.
Italy’s first game of the tournament away from Rome could see them take a tentative approach, where I expect Austria to sit in and challenge the Italians to break them down. It should lead to both sides being level at the break, but Italy’s quality should shine through in the second half as Austria tire.
As far as free-kicks are concerned, Die Burschen have given away 13+ on four of their last five games (at an average of 18.2 per game), whilst Italy have been awarded 13+ in four of their last five competitive internationals, at an average of 14.6 per game.