Italy take on Ukraine in the second quarter final of the World Cup on Friday evening in Hamburg.
Of the eight teams remaining in the competition, Ukraine are surprise quarter finalists after their penalty shoot-out victory over Switzerland, while Italy, despite being reduced to ten men, overcame Australia with a stoppage time Francesco Totti penalty.
Italy have reached this stage without really impressing, although coach Marcello Lippi, has dismissed suggestions that they are lucky to still be in the tournament.
“I’d like to say something about this talk that we have been lucky,” he said.
“We had Francesco Totti ruled out for three months, then Gianluca Zambrotta, Gennaro Gattuso and Alessandro Nesta all got injured. That’s really lucky.”
Lippi also dismissed criticism by the Italian media that his team were playing negative football.
“In the past year we have tried to play in a certain, attacking, way and produced some great games that were well received by everyone,” he added.
“Now we get this over-reaction after two or three games where we haven’t played like that.
“We are here at a World Cup and we have brought all our enthusiasm with us, as well as millions of problems, with Totti and all the other injuries.
“On top of that, we have to deal with the unprecedented mess happening in Italy,” he said, referring to the ongoing match-fixing investigations involving Serie A.
Italy will be without key defender Alessandro Nesta who is suffering from a groin injury, and following his sending-off against Australia, Marco Materazzi, his natural replacement, will also miss tonight‘s game.
Andrea Barzagli will partner Fabio Cannavaro in the heart of the defence.
Daniele De Rossi continues his four-match suspension following his red card earlier in the tournament against USA.
Totti is expected to return to the team after starting as a substitute against Australia.
Vincenzo Iaquinta is an injury doubt for Italy so Luca Toni and Alberto Gilardino are both expected to start, despite not really impressing in the competition to date.
Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin believes his side have nothing to lose tonight.
“We are not afraid of playing against them, we will play freely. We are going to aim for victory,” he said.
“Italy are under pressure because they are the favourites in our game and we have already achieved what we wanted to. We have already made history.”
Andrii Shevchenko will be aiming to get one over on his old Milan team-mates.
The Ukraine skipper says his side must show great spirit if they are to have a chance of reaching the last four.
“The Italy squad is packed with talented players,” said Shevchenko.
“Italy are favourites but the important thing for us is to play with enough heart to make up for any technical shortcomings we may have.
“We must recover our strength after our exertions against Switzerland and go on to the pitch as a solid unit.”
The Chelsea striker said that his side‘s run to the last eight had surprised a lot of people.
“After our 4-0 defeat against Spain, a lot of people wrote us off,” he added.
“Getting to the quarter-finals is cause for celebration though – both for the team and for the entire people of Ukraine.”
“Italy are one of the great footballing nations but the Ukrainian team has a big heart,” he said.
“We will make things very difficult for them. We want to put Italy out.”
Ukraine are without Andrei Voronin with the striker ruled out of the rest of the competition because of injury.
Oleg Blokhin is expected to bring in Sergei Rebrov into midfield and move Andrei Vorobei further forward to play alongside Shevchenko.
Defensive duo Andrei Rusol and Viacheslav Sviderski are both available again after missing the Switzerland clash through suspension. Voldimir Yezerskyi is also expected to be fit after recovering form a minor knock. to take his place in the starting line-up.
Italy: Buffon, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Barzagli, Grosso, Perrotta, Pirlo, Gattuso, Totti, Toni, Gilardino.
Ukraine: Shovkovskiy, Nesmachniy, Rusol, Sviderskiy, Tymoschuk, Shelayev, Gusev, Rebrov, Kalinichenko, Vorobey, Shevchenko.
Referee:: Frank de Bleeckere (Belgium)