A chance to be called “The Champions of Europe” await two terribly starved Nations this weekend. Italy, a side that has failed to get their hands on another European trophy after they last did it 53-years ago, and England – a side that plays their first final major tournament final after a lengthy 55-year-wait.
In a game that would be the climax of a mesmerizing summer of Euro 2020 excitement, the Azzuris and the Three Lions both head the prestigious Wembley Stadium in London on Sunday, in a bid to put an end to the spells that kept them away from tasting success after over five decades. But who leaves Wembley on Sunday feeling “mission accomplished”?
THE GLI AZZURRI
Italy, being led by the astute Roberto Mancini booked their place in the showpiece event after coming up trumps in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout against Spain.
Mancini’s men found Group A easy as they swept aside Turkey, Switzerland and Wales in the group stage without shipping a single goal. However, their knockout encounters were not business as usual as they had to dig deep to get business done in three gruelling fixtures against Austria in the round of 16, Belgium in the quarter-finals and Spain in the semifinals – two of those three being decided after extra time or penalties.
Despite boasting just 30% of possession and taking seven shots on goal compared to Spain’s 16, Italy and their 14-game winning run – as well as a 33-game unbeaten run, during which they boast a remarkable goal difference of +76 – prepare for their 10th major tournament final hoping that the third time will be the charm following defeats at the final hurdle in 2000 and 2012.
Italy’s Star Men
The Azzurri coach has had a full selection of players available to him following their semi-final win over Spain – barring Spinazzola – and an unchanged lineup should take to the field despite two laborious 120-minute encounters. However, eyes would be on the attacking trio of Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne who have all found the back of the net more than once for 1968 Euro Championship winners.
Atalanta’s Matteo Pessina who plays as a midfielder and scored two important goals in the competition would also be an attacking threat for the Azzuris, while fans would be hoping Mancini starts Nico Barella and Chelsea’s Jorginho.
THE THREE LIONS
Gareth Southgate could be labelled a history-maker, and jinx breaker if he successfully leads England – whose only success on the international scene is winning the 1966 FIFA World Cup, all the way to the trophy and have fans chanting “Football Is Coming Home” at the end of 90 or 120 minutes.
Although England may not have dazzled and delighted on the attacking front, they often maintained an impenetrable rearguard that saw them navigate five European Championship games without conceding a goal. Three in the group stages against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic, and then Germany and Ukraine in the last 16 and quarterfinals.
A semifinal clash against a resilient Denmark did come easy for Southgate’s men as they had to rely on Harry Kane to tap in with a rebound from the penalty spot in the 104th minute after Sterling controversially went down in the area. The 2-1 victory was the first time England were unlike the Italians, forced to play for 120 minutes at the competition.
England’s Star Men
The combination of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling has been one of the major reasons England are where they are at this stage of the competition. Contributions from the duo mean 7 of England’s 10 goals at the tournament – Kane (4), Sterling (3). But would a formidable Italian defence who have conceded only 3 goals at the competition be something the English captain and Manchester City superstar consider an easy nut?
Even better, England’s defence has shown they are more a force to reckon with than Italy’s, conceding just one goal across the competition. Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, John Stones and Kyle Walker would be looking to do what they know best when they face Mancini’s men – ensuring Pickford have little to do in goal.
Sunday’s Euro 2020 final marks the 28th meeting between Italy and England in all competitions, with the Azzurri boasting 11 wins compared to eight for the Three Lions. Italy knocked England out on penalties en route to the Euro 2012 final, and the Azzurri also prevailed in the only other European Championship meeting between the two sides – a 1-0 win during the group stage of Euro 1980.
However, the two nations have played out two 1-1 draw in friendlies since 2015, and victory for England at Wembley would also mark the first time in history that they have beaten Italy at a major tournament.
LAST FIVE FIXTURES
ITALY: W – W – W – W – W
ENGLAND: W – W – W – W – D