ROME (AP) — Having overcome historic rival Germany in the last 16, facing Ukraine might seem like an easier proposition for England.
Turns out, though, that Saturday’s quarterfinal match at the Stadio Olimpico might be England’s toughest test of the European Championship.
That’s because it’s the only match of Euro 2020 that England will have to play away from the friendly confines of Wembley Stadium.
Making matters more complicated is that the Italian government has explicitly warned Britain-based England fans to stay away from the game unless they can prove they have observed five days of quarantine since arriving.
For a team like England that is known for its traveling supporters, that’s a major blow. But coach Gareth Southgate saw it in a positive light.
“I actually think it’s good to come away from Wembley now," Southgate said. "It would have been hard to replicate the atmosphere we had the other day (four) days later. And I think to have a different focus, different surroundings, different sort of challenge is good for us.”
Adding to the challenge is that winger Bukayo Saka, who started against Germany, picked up a “slight knock” in training on Friday, Southgate said, leaving his status questionable.
Because of the pandemic, the Olimpico can only be 25% full for a total of about 16,000 fans.
Ukraine residents also face restrictions for travel to Italy.
“Clearly that doesn’t help football but we’re well aware of the situation,” Ukraine coach Andriy Shevchenko said before encouraging Italy-based Ukrainians to attend the match.
Shevchenko added that he hopes Italians fans will “get behind Ukraine as well.”
“I think that Ukraine deserves the sympathy from the fans for how well they’ve played, how well they try at this tournament,” Shevchenko said. “Tomorrow at the stadium we will see who will support whom better.”
The winner between Ukraine and England will play either Denmark or the Czech Republic in the semifinals on Wednesday at Wembley, with the final also scheduled for England’s home stadium.
For Ukraine’s coaching staff, meanwhile, playing in Italy is a homecoming.
Shevchenko was one of Serie A’s most prolific scorers during his playing career with AC Milan, while assistant coach Mauro Tassotti is from Rome and began his playing career at the Stadio Olimpico with Lazio before going onto a long and successful career at Milan as both a player and assistant coach.
“If the Italians support us because we’re the weaker team that’s absolutely fine,” Tassotti said. “I’m really hoping the fans give us some big support.”
Still, Tassotti acknowledged that beating England is a “titanic challenge.”
“But we’ve seen what happened over the past few days with the Netherlands and France,” Tassotti told the Gazzetta dello Sport. “England has enormous talent but they’ve also had the advantage, like other nations, of playing only at home.”
Expect an old-fashioned Italian “catenaccio” (lockdown defense) and counterattack approach from Ukraine to deal with talented England strikers Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, who accounted for the goals in the 2-0 win over Germany.
Tassotti said the tactics will be to “stifle” England, “close spaces,” and “prevent them from running."
“Those are the types of matches they don’t like. They’ve got talent but we’ve got to try to force them to think as much as possible and only then take advantage of our talent,” Tassotti added. “If we think we can play them straight up considering all the talent that they have, we won’t go very far.”
If Ukraine can get into the opponent’s half, the attack should flow through Andriy Yarmolenko, who plays in England for West Ham.
Likewise, Oleksandr Zinchenko is teammates with Sterling at Manchester City.
Having barely scraped through the group phase, it will be Ukraine’s first European Championship quarterfinal match.
England is looking to match its performance from the 2018 World Cup, when it reached the semifinals. The last time England made it to the last four of the European Championship was in 1996.
But the bigger goal for England at this point is to duplicate the success of the 1966 team that won the World Cup and lifted the trophy on home soil.
“We just need to be on our A game,” Pickford said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game. Every game is tough so we’ll be ready.”
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Andrew Dampf, The Associated Press