England’s Euro 2012 quarter-final against Italy will be watched by around 20 million people on television in the UK and 6,000 dedicated fans in Kiev tonight.
Many will be arriving in the Ukrainian capital today to cheer on Roy Hodgson’s side at the 64,000-seater Olympic Stadium.
The match is likely to draw the highest peak TV audience of the year in Britain.
England’s victory over Ukraine was watched by 18.6 million – beating the Jubilee celebrations – but more are expected to be glued to television screens at home and in pubs and bars across the nation tonight.
There have been no arrests of England fans in Ukraine, and the head of the British police contingent at the tournament has praised their behaviour.
Assistant Chief Constable Andy Holt, representing the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said: “We’ve been very pleased with the way they’ve behaved and the response that we’ve had when we’ve spoken to fans. If you’d offered me this at the start of the tournament I would have taken it.”
He added: “There have been no arrests. There have been occasions when it’s got quite lively, but we’ve managed with our Ukrainian colleagues to intervene and prevent it escalating.”
Acpo estimated 6,000 England fans would be inside the stadium tonight. They will outnumber the Italians, who have not travelled to the tournament in large numbers.
Taxi driver Steve Pope, 50, from Bournemouth, Dorset, said: “I’m definitely predicting an England win, 1-0 or 2-0. I think we’re a lot better on paper than the Italians.
“They’ve got a lot of ageing players, while we seem to have a lot of young players coming through. We’re more of a team than we have been for the last couple of tournaments.”
England have won just one of their last five games against the Italians, but Tommy Griffiths, 56, believes things could be different tomorrow night.
The welder, from Warrington, Cheshire, said: “I’ve been to some of the previous games against them and we’ve really struggled.
“But we’ve got a chance. I think we might do it this once, even if it goes to penalties.”
Craig Matthews, 48, believed Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli was the main threat to England’s chances.
The entrepreneur from Southampton warned: “I think Balotelli is the worry to be honest.
“If we can stop him scoring we’ll win.”
The UK Government is boycotting the match because of concerns over human rights in Ukraine.
No ministers watched the team’s group games amid criticism of the treatment of Ukraine’s jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, though the UK’s ambassador in Kiev did attend.