1.32pm: Daniel has arrived in the comments section. guero1 asks: Hi Daniel,. What's the latest on Italy's tactics for this game, will we see four at the back or a return to the three which dealt with Spain so effectively? I'm more than a little concerned about how we would react to an unconventional approach from the opposition, we struggle enough in midfield as it is, we could find ourselves swamped against 5 Italians orchestrated by the magnificent Pirlo.

Daniel replies:

What's been very clear over the last few days is that Hodgson is going to devote a lot of his tactics to trying to reduce the influence of Pirlo. He was unusually open about this when asked the other day and talked at length about the importance of wide players not drifting too wide, ie being compact (something Milner is good at).

The part I found most interesting was that he stressed the importance of Gerrard and Parker not straying too far forward if Pirlo is playing a deep role himself. In other words, don't lose your own position simply to get nearer to him. The danger if they did that being that there would be too much space behind England's two central midfielders for Italy to exploit. So expect to see Rooney dropping back at times to help midfield and try to stop Pirlo controlling the game.

On Italy's defence, it is difficult to be too sure but the Italian journalists I spoke to yesterday seem to think he will stick with four at the back. They, too, could not be 100% and, partly to stop team leaks, Prandelli is breaking with his usual policy and won't tell the players until an hour before kick-off.

1.38pm: legaff asks: During WC2010, Rooney received a lot of bad press (which was justified), especially when he talked about the fans into the live camera at the end of a game. But that was nothing compared to Nasri's behaviour to the press throughout these Euros. Do you think that, in comparison to other nations, the decorum of English players has never really been that bad?What's been your take on the French side and do you think Blanc's tactics let the team down or did the players simply not play good enough football on the pitch? Also, if you could pick one player or manager who has been entertaining throughout the tournament in regards to press conferences / interviews, who has it been? Balotelli seems to have entertained the hacks during yesterday's press conference.

Daniel replies:

Nasri was stupid but, in fairness, I guess you get moments like this everywhere. I've seen Gary Neville calling a journalist a 'fat ****' on a Manchester United flight and telling another, on a separate flight, to eff off etc etc, all with sponsors and other passengers around. One was because the journalist had written that he may retire, which is something GNev subsequently admitted was true. The other was even more daft.

Ashley Cole was asked to talk in the mixed zone after winning the European Cup (when you'd think most players would be happy to be interviewed) and replied: 'F*** 'em'. It happens. I could give you another 100 examples, in fact. The difference with Nasri is that he has a terrible relationship with the French media and when the team has just limply gone out of a major tournament the timing was terrible and he won't be allowed to forget that. After that, I guess it depends where you place swearing at a journalist in terms of bad behaviour.

I only saw the second half of the Spain-France game – one of the things about covering these events, you are very often working during the actual matches – but I was surprised with France's tactics and just how devoid of ideas they were, or at least mildly surprised. I didn't think they were particularly great against England either, however much they controlled possession.

As for press conferences . . well, Balotelli stole the show with Italy yesterday. He wasn't even meant to be doing it but just decided 15 minutes before. Otherwise the Blokhin press conference after the England was probably the most memorable, offering a journalist outside 'man on man' and, even when he was heading out at the end, pointing at the door and beckoning him to go outside. We don't get that with Hodgson.

1.43pm: cinquez asks: I have a question, that I doubt Mr Taylor will answer. Why is the media obsessed with Balotelli's behaviour when in international and club football his temperament has been much better than Rooney, despite a lot more abuse and provocation? Mr Taylor recently had an article about the merits of Balotelli. Was it he that should've sat out three matches for deliberately kicking an opponent on international duty? Or swears at referees in the domestic league every week without rebuke? Mr Taylor read my comment under his article, I wonder if he is honest enough to admit the inconsistencies in his own work, not that he is alone.

Daniel replies:

Not entirely sure of your point. I could show you 1,000 articles dissecting Wayne Rooney's temperament … just look at the criticism that came his way after his red card against Montenegro.

Cassano gets a lot of bad press, and does stupid things … does that mean the Italian press shouldn't write about Balotelli either? I'm sure they write about both, just as the English press write about Balotelli, Terry, Rooney etc etc. We try to pick out interesting subjects and Balotelli is a fascinating one, and clearly a key personality in this game. If Prandelli starts him, he could do anything.

Your tone suggests my article on Balotelli was some kind of hatchet job (unless I'm mistaken) but, genuinely, I think you're seeing something that isn't there. Cristina, his sister, has emailed me to say she and her family loved it.

Maybe, in the nicest possible sense, lighten up?

1.54pm: thisgunforhire asks: Daniel, I can't help feeling, despite the nation's new found giddiness, that Roy's boys have been extremely fortunate to get this far and, performance wise, aren't massively improved on South Africa. I'm thinking in particular of Theo's fluky goal v Sweden and the first half shambles v Ukraine. They should really already be out.

Daniel replies:

You're lulling me into a place where I will get accused of being anti-Roy …

However, I certainly agree the team haven't always looked very good. I found the giddiness after the 1-1 draw with a not-hugely-brilliant France side really strange. Our possession and control of the ball that day was awful (Ashley Young, seven passes; AOC, 11 passes etc etc). We just played with good structure and all the usual English qualities. And as I tried to point out at the time, France weren't great.

A journalist on the bus yesterday said to me; 'You do realise that if Capello was still in charge, he would be getting hammered for these kind of performances?'

That said, everything has to be put into the context of the disadvantages RH has had to face and they have been considerable - bundled into the job with a few weeks' notice and then the late rush of injuries. So to finish top of the group is a really good achievement.

1.57pm: trinder19 asks: I know you're miles away from Manchester but do you think there's anything at all to the De Rossi to City story? From what little I know, he seems a Roma boy to the core and having signed a long contract only this year, isn't going anywhere.

Daniel replies:

City went for him in January (Mancini loves him) but he wanted huge money - as in Tevez-style huge, over £200,000 a week - and they were never convinced he was going to leave Roma anyway.

De Rossi said the other day he had many offers from England, and it wouldn't surprise me (though I'm only guessing) that MUFC might have been in for him too.

He's a great player and, from the limited time I've had with him, I 've been really struck by his presence too. it's all in his eyes. And that beard. Cool bloke.

2.01pm: Brett Turner asks: Would Rooney pose the biggest threat coming off the bench against a tiring defence that's had to battle with Carroll for 60 minutes? I know I'm playing Devil's Advocate a bit here.

Daniel replies:

Maybe the other way around? Bring on Carroll late on and see whether he can do to them what he did to Chelsea in the FA Cup final? I'd go that way, myself.

2.08pm: SpinningHugo asks: (i) Has any discernible rancour amongst the player about Terry's presence leaked out? (ii) Can Rooney play as badly two games on the bounce?

Daniel replies:


i) nothing … in fact, Hodgson and Gerrard both pointed out yesterday that Terry had been a big part, both on the pitch and behind the scenes. I think footballers are generally pretty good at just trying to get on with these things. It's complicated, and it could have been a problem. Lescott, for example, has serious issues about what has happened. Welbeck, someone who looks up to RF and shares the same representatives, must have found it difficult, but I get the impression they have just tried to block it out as best as they can until the end of the tournament. Since that first week it hasn't really been brought up. In fact, it's actually been a controversy-free competition for England, from start to finish, which I think is a big plus point for Roy and how he has gone about the job. Everyone has been very professional.

ii) I thought Rooney looked anxious in that first half against Ukraine and that was a horrible miss from Young's cross, but the goal should have soothed his confidence. There was always going to be a lot of pressure on him for that first match but he might be a bit more relaxed now. It's strange though because Rooney scored 34 goals last season but didn't always play well. He has admitted this himself - that his all-round game has been better in the past but he is making up for it with his scoring.

2.13pm: robalolex asks: On penalty kicks, do you know whether the culture of avoidance is still in place in Team England? I'm hopeful that Roy Hodgson's more cerebral approach to football extends to accepting the shoot-out is part of the game and that he's studied the research in the area...? Misplaced hopes?

Daniel replies:

There's certainly no avoidance … Joe Hart has already been given a DvD of all the Italy penalty-takers and the players have been practising after every training session.

What Hodgson has refused to do is decide his five penalty-takers in advance and I think that's the right decision. I've mentioned in this nib in today's Observer …

Roy Hodgson is doing the right thing in not designating in advance the five players he wants to embark on the lonely walk from the centre circle in the case of a possible penalty shootout. Hodgson's players have been practising at the end of each training session so he will already have a good idea about who is the most accurate and who might just put it over the bar. He should also know enough about his players to understand who can keep a steady hand and who might lose their nerve. Choosing his five now would do little other than give the impression he is not entirely confident of beating Italy over 90 minutes. Likewise, telling his players in advance would leave the nominated ones with too much time to let it play on their minds. Anyway, how could he be sure they would still be on the pitch after 120 minutes? The Hodgson way is far better. "If we have to hold the shootout at the start of the match, I'll pick five players," he said. "Otherwise, no."

2.21pm: dionysusreborn asks: Cut to the chase, who's starting tonight?

Daniel replies:

Almost certainly the same team … that's certainly the one Roy has been working with in training

Though I think Rooney will drop back a bit more to pick up Pirlo, as mentioned above

So barring any late surprises: (4-4-1-1) Hart; Johnson, Terry, Lescott, Cole; Milner, Gerrard, Parker, Young; Rooney; Welbeck.

2.26pm: Hoppo asks: Which players do England really need to step up tonight? My thought would be the wingers, who aside from Walcott have not contributed too much in the final third so far?

Daniel replies:

I think we need to see more from Young, who was ok against Ukraine but disappointing against Sweden and hardly in it against France

People talk about Milner … but that's what he does, as Barney Ronay's piece yesterday pointed out. He will never dazzle you with his football but he gets about the pitch and does a lot of unseen work.

Otherwise, I think if England are to have any realistic hopes of actually winning this competition we need Rooney to spark. Yes, he scored against Ukraine but he was quite erratic whereas England really need him in the zone. In short, we need the Euro 2004 Rooney. If he can get close to that, we have an attack that can worry any defence.

2.31pm: Daniel is signing off now. Thanks for all your questions. Feel free to continue the debate on our live blog ahead of tonight's games.