As Italy begin their preparations for their UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-final against England on Sunday, midfielder Daniele De Rossi is looking to arrest an alarming trend. "I've never been lucky against English sides," he told Wednesday's press conference at Casa Azzurri.
De Rossi has never before faced England in international competition but he has come up against English sides in UEFA competition over the years, and the AS Roma midfielder has not enjoyed the best of it. His AS Roma side have lost two UEFA Champions League group stage encounters against Chelsea FC, have been eliminated by Arsenal FC in a round of 16 penalty shoot-out and have suffered two quarter-final reverses at the hands of Manchester United FC.
It is not the best record with which to take on Roy Hiodgson's side. "I've never been lucky against English sides," he said. "I've never faced England but, speaking as a Roman, no Italy-England match could ever erase the agony of the European Cup loss against Liverpool [in 1984]."
Despite his bitter experiences, De Rossi does not harbour any grudges against Sunday's opponents. Indeed, he admitted that he has great admiration for a country where he was very tempted to ply his trade until he signed a new deal with his home-town club in February.
"England are one of the top five or six teams in the world and it will be nice to play them in Kyiv," he said. "Several Premier League clubs have tried to sign me, not just Manchester City, and the interest was mutual. English football is hugely appealing to me, it has overtaken the Italian game."
De Rossi's admiration for England does not end there. The 28-year-old is preparing to go mano-a-mano with his favourite player on Sunday, and is expecting Azzurri fans to be outnumbered by their English counterparts. "Steven Gerrard has always been my idol," he said.
"England also have some exciting young wingers and a coach who has coached in Italy. They are a very good side. Not everyone from Italy can afford to make the trip in these difficult economic times but the English will be in force. On the pitch, though, it is only 11 v 11."
Italy's No16 has played in central defence and midfield during the Azzurri's three matches to date and, with Giorgio Chiellini ruled out with a hamstring injury, De Rossi could end up returning once more to the middle of a back three.
"I don't know where I will play in Kyiv," he said. "It is handy that I am versatile – being complete is probably my best asset. I know that when in midfield I cannot afford to sit still. I must be like Gerrard, and cover every area of the midfield."
De Rossi's versatility does at times weigh against him when it comes to playing in his favoured role, but the player known as 'Capitan Futuro' (Captain Future) by the Roma faithful is happy to bide his time. He added: "My favourite position is just in front of the defence but I can't play there because that place is taken by one of the greatest players in the history of Italian football, [Andrea] Pirlo. So I'm happy to make way for him."
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