FOOTBALL

11 July, 2021

AUTHOR: James Dowen

STAR PREVIEW Sun: Italy v England (EURO 2020 Final)

After a crazy whirlwind of a tournament, it all comes down to this. England face their date with destiny as they take on Roberto Mancini’s Italy in their first major tournament final in 55 years at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

It’s been a year late but EURO 2020 has been worth waiting for, with a feast of football that started with a tiny car and Nessun Dorma and ends on Sunday at Wembley as England – who have reached their first men’s major final in 55 years – face Italy, transformed under Roberto Mancini and unbeaten in 32 games. Anticipation is already at fever pitch.

Enjoy our special preview!

England

Route to the final:

Group D: England 1-0 Croatia (Sterling 57)
Group D: England 0-0 Scotland
Group D: Czech Republic 0-1 England (Sterling 12)
Round of 16: England 2-0 Germany (Sterling 75, Kane 86)
Quarter-finals: Ukraine 0-4 England (Kane 4 & 50, Maguire 46, Henderson 63)
Semi-finals: England 2-1 Denmark, AET (Kjær 39 og, Kane 104; Damsgaard 30)

Case For England:

Over the past few weeks, a nation torn apart and broken by the pandemic has been steadily but surely pulled back together by Gareth Southgate and his professional, efficient and eminently likeable set of players.

What seemed like a distant dream at the last European Championship – where England were of course infamously dumped out by Iceland – is now a reality. They are in the final and they absolutely deserve it.

The route there didn’t come without its turbulence, though. Questions were raised about whether Southgate was too negative after the 0-0 draw with Scotland and they had to respond to going a goal down in that dramatic semi-final against Denmark. Even Harry Kane – so often England’s star player and talisman – had his critics after the first couple of matches.

However, every time England have been knocked down so far at EURO 2020, they’ve got straight back up and gone again. In years gone by this Three Lions side may have imploded, but not this one. This group is made of sterner stuff and that resilience and mental toughness – which perhaps some sides of years gone by have lacked – has been an enormous contributing factor to England’s success at this tournament.

Southgate’s tactical flexibility has been a huge plus for England with the team perfectly capable of switching between 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-3 systems. Their ability to limit their opponent’s opportunities has also been one of their main strengths with England’s resolute back-line still yet to concede from open play at EURO 2020.

They also have a player of the tournament contender in Raheem Sterling. The Manchester City forward – off the back of a fairly underwhelming club season with Manchester City – has silenced the doubters with a string of hugely impressive performances and is a man that Italy will be keeping a very close eye on.

The home advantage could also play a massive part in this match. The atmosphere at Wembley Stadium has just got better and better as the tournament has progressed and the England fans are likely to massively outnumber the Italian contingent on home soil and will be aiming to roar their England heroes to victory.

Case Against England:

Despite many players playing way beyond their years at times this tournament, this is still a very young England team. This 26-man Three Lions squad has an average age of just 25.27, which is by far the youngest at the whole tournament. When you consider that Italy will be lining up with seasoned, experienced campaigners such as Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgino Chiellini, the inexperience may well play a factor in a high-pressure occasion like this.

The biggest case against this England side, however, may simply be the step up in class that they’ll be faced with against an Italian side that have been so good to watch at this tournament. It has not been an easy run to the final by any means, but this is the toughest test Southgate’s side have faced.

Italy v England
UEFA EURO 2020 Final
20:00 BBC One HD / ITV 1 HD / BBC iPlayer / ITV Hub

HEAD-TO-HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches)
MAR 2018 FRIENDLY England 1-1 Italy
MAR 2015 FRIENDLY Italy 1-1 England
JUN 2014 WORLD CUP England 1-2 Italy
AUG 2012 FRIENDLY England 2-1 Italy
JUN 2012 EURO 2012 England 0-0 Italy (Italy won 4-2 on penalties)
MAR 2002 FRIENDLY England 1-2 Italy
NOV 2000 FRIENDLY Italy 1-0 England
OCT 1997 WORLD CUP QUALIFIER Italy 0-0 England
JUN 1997 FRIENDLY England 2-0 Italy
FEB 1997 FRIENDLY England 0-1 Italy

PAST EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP FINALS
2016: Portugal 1-0 France (AET)
2012: Spain 4-0 Italy
2008: Spain 1-0 Germany
2004: Greece 1-0 Portugal
2000: France 2-1 Italy (Golden Goal)
1996: Germany 2-1 Czech Republic (AET)
1992: Denmark 2-0 Germany
1988: Netherlands 2-0 Soviet Union

Italy

Route to the final:

Group A: Turkey 0-3 Italy (Merih Demiral 53 og, Immobile 66, Insigne 79)
Group A: Group A: Italy 3-0 Switzerland (Locatelli 26 52, Immobile 89)
Group A: Italy 1-0 Wales (Pessina 39)
Round of 16: Italy 2-1 Austria, aet (Chiesa 95, Pessina 105; Kalajdzic 114)
Quarter-finals: Belgium 1-2 Italy (Lukaku 45+2pen; Barella 31, Insigne 44)
Semi-finals: Italy 1-1 Spain, 4-2 pens (Chiesa 60; Morata 80)

Case For Italy:

Italy were by far and away the most impressive team in the group-stages; starting in style with a 3-0 win over Turkey before trouncing Switzerland by the same score-line and edging past Wales.

That saw them into the Last 16 with the wind in their sails, but Austria threatened to take them out, with Marko Arnautović’s fine header ruled out for offside as the Azzurri were struggling in the second half. Their squad depth came to the fore however, with goals from substitutes Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina sending Italy into the last eight.

An outstanding team performance then got them past Belgium before a nervy semi-final against Spain ended in a penalty shoot-out victory that means it is only England in the way of them winning their first European Championship since 1968.

Of course, this being Italy, their defence is one of their main strong points. The centre-back pairing of Leandro Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – despite having a combined age of 70 – have still been as resilient, dominant and difficult to get past as ever at EURO 2020. 22-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma, who adds a bit more youth to the back-line, has also looked like an absolute colossus between the sticks for the Azzurri.

Federico Chiesa has been superb since being introduced to the starting XI, scoring two big goals in the knockout rounds to secure Italy’s spot in the final of EURO 2020. His skill, footballing intelligence and deadly finishing has been a huge asset for Mancini and co and

England’s rock-solid defence will be seriously tested by the Juventus man.
Immobile and Insigne alongside him have also proven how capable they are of destroying defences in an instant and England’s high-line could be in danger against that terrifying trio.

Case Against Italy:

Despite looking fabulous in the group-stages, Italy weren’t quite as impressive in the semi-final against Spain. Spain dominated the ball, created more clear-cut chances and may well count themselves unlucky not to win and be the side facing England in the final.

Left wing-back Leonardo Spinazzola – who has arguably been one of the players of the tournament – picked up a serious injury in their quarter-final clash against Belgium and will not feature against England and a long while after. His absence will be a huge blow to the Azzurri and huge boost to the Three Lions as he was one of the key cogs to the Italian machine and it did look like Mancini’s side were somewhat affected by it against Spain.

Italy have also looked vulnerable against pace at times this tournament and it is fair to say England have plenty of that, with Sterling and Saka hoping to find some joy.

The Verdict:

Is it coming home for England? That’s the big question on everyone’s lips. Most people accept that it will be a huge task to beat Italy and that they’re by far the best team England will have faced at the tournament. However, there is a growing optimism across the nation that something special could be on the horizon.

Italy have overcome good sides in Spain and Belgium in their last two knockout fixtures to progress to this stage and will fancy their chances against an England side that, as a footballing nation, are in inferior in terms of big-game experience.

That could play a big part in this final as well as the fact that this is a big set-up in class for England and we have yet to see them tested against a side on Italy’s level. For that reason, an Italy win looks like the play here with a 2-1 correct score adding some extra value.

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PROFIT/LOSS (EURO 2020): PROFT 7.36 points


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