Both teams came through thrilling second round wins, with the Italians, reduced to 10-men against Australia, the beneficiaries of a literal last-minute penalty which was converted by Francesco Totti, while Ukraine needed 120 minutes and a penalty shoot-out to overcome Switzerland.
The Italian defence has shown its usual high standard conceding just one goal in four matches so far, even with the injury to key central defender Alessandro Nesta, and the red carding of his replacement Marco Materazzi.
Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro, who will be partnered in central defence by third choice Andrea Barzagli of Palermo in Friday’s match, has been upset by claims that his side have been lucky throughout the tournament.
“It annoys me when people say that we are lucky,” said Cannavaro.
“Against Australia we had six or seven opportunities to score, and people still say we were lucky. It was Australia who were lucky because they had 11 men against 10.”
When they run out to meet Ukraine, Juventus based Cannavaro along with most of his squad will have the Italian Serie A match-fixing scandal in the back of their minds, as well as the apparent attempted suicide earlier in the week of former international Gianluca Pessotto, who is embroiled in the fiasco as Sporting Director of the Turin club.
Ukraine will be hoping for similar
A man who has played in the Serie A for the past seven years, but will be moving on to Chelsea in the English Premier League next season, is Ukraine captain Andriy Shevchenko who must be relieved after missing his team’s first penalty shot in their eventual 3-0 shoot-out win against the Swiss.
The former AC Milan striker admitted his team will have to improve in order to match it with the Italians.
“Italy will be a tough nut to crack but we are confident we can produce a surprise,” said Shevchenko.
“The Italians have won the tournament three times and they are a step up on anything we have faced to date, but I’d say we have an even chance.
“That’s what we are telling ourselves,” he added.
It is one thing to tell yourselves you can win, but another to actually go out and do it, and with strike partner Andriy Voronin ruled out for the rest of the tournament due to a thigh injury, the task for the Eastern Europeans will be tough.
Back from suspension
Coach Oleg Blokhin will however welcome back his two starting central defenders in Andriy Rusol and Vyacheslav Sviderskyi who return after being suspended for their side’s second round match.
Italy and Ukraine have faced each other just three times despite being in the same confederation, with Italy winning twice a decade ago during qualification for the 1996 European championships, while in their latest meeting the teams played out a 0-0 draw in a friendly lead up match to the World Cup Finals in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Most pundits will be expecting the experienced and solid looking Italians to progress through to the semi-finals to meet either Germany or Argentina, however with their off-field issues, suspensions and injuries, they will have to be mentally sharp to win this one.
Ukraine have not set the world on fire with their performances in their debut World Cup Finals thus far, and will need some luck along with general improvement to have any chance in Hamburg on Friday.