The way things have turned out, it may be a blessing that Fabio Capello is no longer in charge. The Italian would have spent every hour since Tuesday night answering questions about divided loyalties, about the goal he scored to beat England at Wembley in 1973 and perhaps even about the rather vicious foul he inflicted on Tony Currie, the elegant Sheffield United midfielder, in the early stages of that match.
Instead the questions about Sunday's quarter-final are being directed at the only living Englishman with a record of coaching successfully in Italy, a manager whose time with Internazionale makes him a figure of substance to this weekend's opponents. And with Roy Hodgson comes, rightly or wrongly, a hint of Italian tactical nous.
In an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport this week, Gianfranco Zola compared Hodgson to Arrigo Sacchi, who introduced the doctrine of pressing at Milan and then took Italy to the 1994 World Cup final. "Hodgson's England are a little less 'English'," Zola said. "I've watched them play a 4-4-2 with a lot of pressing, taking greater care to ensure that there's less space between the lines than usual. Thanks to the export of Italian coaches to England, the English have understood that to win it's necessary to defend well."
But, he added, it is easy to detect the hand of Hodgson: "His philosophy has been the same wherever he's coached. Organisation, discipline, unselfishness."
If England are no longer under the stern influence of their former Italian coach, the broader effect of Italian coaching on English football is hard to deny, given the successes of Roberto Mancini with Manchester City and Roberto Di Matteo with Chelsea. When England confront Italy, there will be six players from those two clubs in Hodgson's squad.
It is a good time for the products of Coverciano, the Italian FA's technical centre, where coaches are trained. The 42-year-old Antonio Conte has managed the transition from player to manager brilliantly with Juventus, whom he led to the Serie A title last season, and the 54-year-old Cesare Prandelli has shown great imagination in his handling of the national team, whom he joined after five successful seasons with Fiorentina.
Capello, from an earlier generation, never coached the Azzurri, but he can take the credit for guiding England through the qualifying tournament with an unbeaten record before leaving his post in February, and for supervising a morale-boosting victory over Spain, the world and European champions, a couple of months before his departure. Were England to achieve a miracle by going all the way in Euro 2012 then it would be largely the work of the present manager, but the modest and courteous Hodgson would be the first to pay tribute to his predecessor's contribution.
After 98 Englishmen, 30 Scots and eight Northern Irishmen, seven Italians constitute – jointly with the Republic of Ireland – the largest group of managers from a single nation in the 20 years of the Premier League, with Mancini and Di Matteo preceded by Gianluca Vialli, Attilio Lombardo, Claudio Ranieri, Zola and Carlo Ancelotti. But the traffic has not always been one way, and when Hodgson went to Inter, the first of his two Serie A clubs, for his initial spell in 1995, he was following a tradition that went back to the beginnings of organised football in Italy.
Herbert Kilpin, a Nottingham man, co-founded Milan in 1899 and managed them for their first seven seasons. Willy Garbutt, a Stockport-born winger who played for Woolwich Arsenal and Blackburn Rovers before the first world war, went to Italy as a dock worker in 1911, guided Genoa to three league titles, became Roma's first manager in 1928, and also served with Napoli and Milan. Herbert Burgess, a former blacksmith who played left-back for both Manchester clubs and for England, was with Milan, Padova and Roma between 1922 and 1932. Jesse Carver, once Newcastle United's centre-half, introduced training with the ball to Juventus between 1949-51 and later managed Lazio, Torino, Roma and Inter. Less successful were Alec Stock, who followed 10 years at Leyton Orient with a single season at Roma in 1957-58, and David Platt, whose adventure at Sampdoria 13 years ago lasted a few months.
Zola's belief in a new awareness of the importance of defending is not entirely supported by the most recent evidence from the Premier League, whose audiences have been treated to scorelines owing little to defensive rigour: 8-2, 6-1, 3-5, 5-2, 5-1, 5-0 and so on. But it is true that Chelsea won the European Cup final with an obduracy that would have done credit to Helenio Herrera's Inter of the mid-Sixties, providing an example for England to follow in their opening match against France and against the frantic Ukrainian assault.
England's defensive method, like Chelsea's, is very far from the ultimate refinement of catenaccio fashioned by Herrera, in which he had four man-markers and a fifth defender sitting behind them, sweeping up. But on Sunday we may be treated to the sight of Italy trying to overcome a modified version of Sacchi's formula, England massing in zonal defence but ready to spring fast counterattacks.
Ironically, too, England may be facing the most attack-minded Italy in years. Like Conte, who will surely succeed him one day, Prandelli is an unusual flexible coach. In the first two matches, against Spain and Croatia, he used a new 3-5-2 formation, with two bodyguards and two wing-backs flanking the playmaker and giving plenty of support to the two forwards. After drawing those games 1-1, and needing a win to be sure of qualifying for the first knockout round, he switched to a more straightforward 4-4-2 against the Republic of Ireland. On Sunday, however, he seems likely to revert to 3-5-2, setting up a potentially fascinating battle between two teams who contain plenty of traditional virtues without being locked into national stereotypes.
The history of England versus Italy goes back to 1933 and a 1-1 draw in Rome's old Fascist stadium, long since demolished, where Cliff Bastin scored the equaliser. A year later came the Battle of Highbury, in which the broken foot suffered in the open minutes by Luisito Monti, Italy's Argentina-born centre half, provided the cue for an afternoon of mayhem that ended 3-2 in England's favour.
The two nations have played each other 22 times, with nine wins for Italy and seven for England. They have never before been in position to eliminate each other in a knockout round of a major tournament, although defeat by Italy in a group match in Turin's Stadio Comunale ended England's participation in the 1980 European Championships.
In the decade since they last met, when Giovanni Trapattoni's Italy beat Sven-Goran Eriksson's England 2-1 in a friendly at Elland Road, virtually the only thing that has not changed is the identity of the Azzurri's goalkeeper, Gigi Buffon. In some respects the two footballing nations are closer than ever, in others further apart. After Sunday night, however it ends, the story of a long relationship will have a new and dramatic chapter.