Italy and England will battle it out inside a packed Wembley to be crowned the new champions of Europe in the finals of the UEFA Euro 2020 this weekend.
After a month-long exciting, action-packed journey involving 24 teams across 50 matches, filled with shock moments and surprise results, it all comes down to this – the endgame, the grand finale of all, as Italy get set to take on England for the glory of being named the champions of the UEFA Euro 2020.
From being buried in the ignominy of failing to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Italy have risen from the ashes and in style. Under the tutelage of Roberto Mancini, the Azzurri are again a force to reckon with on the international stage. Led by the old guard of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, supported by the experience of Jorginho and Marco Verratti, and completed by the exuberance of Nicolo Barella, Federico Chiesa, among others, the Italians have been relentless of late.
Currently on a 33-game unbeaten run that encompasses a near-perfect group stage at UEFA Euro 2020, when they eased past Turkey, Switzerland and Wales, before being pushed to the brink by Austria in the Round of 16, Italy toughed it out against Belgium in the quarter-final. The Azzurri were nearly played out of the park by Spain in the semi-final, but their steely resolve led to a penalty shootout win, setting up for a chance to win a major tournament for the first time since 2006.
For England, the journey up to this point has been long and arduous. The Three Lions have had to wait for a total of 55 years to make an appearance in the finals of a major international tournament, but there had been obvious signs of this happening ever since Gareth Southgate commandeered the ship for the first time. A semi-final run in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, impressive runs in the UEFA Nations League, have all been building up to this moment.
England started out slow in the group stages but stepped up in the knockout phases, outplaying Germany and Ukraine in the Round of 16 and the quarter-final ties, respectively, while they were a bit fortuituous in their extra-time win over Denmark in the semi-final. Amid all the talk of them playing a majority of their games at home, to the bizarre UEFA’s favouritism conspiracy theory, there is no taking away that England have been a top team and are deserving of their spot in the finals.
The last time England and Italy met in a major tournament was at the UEFA Euro 2012 quarter-final when the Azzurri eliminated the Three Lions on penalties. Their most recent meeting came in a friendly setting in 2018 that ended in a 1-1 draw. Ahead of this gargantuan blockbuster finale at Wembley, The Hard Tackle now takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
Apart from the absence of Leonardo Spinazzola due to the injury he picked up against Belgium, Italy have no major fitness concerns heading into the final on Sunday. Roberto Mancini will have a near full-strength squad to pick from, with the Italy boss expected to set his team up in a 4-3-3 setup as usual against England.
In goal, there is no looking past Gianluigi Donnarumma, who has enjoyed a solid tournament so far. The veteran centre-back pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and captain Giorgio Chiellini will form the defensive barrier to stop Harry Kane from scoring while Giovanni Di Lorenzo starts at right-back. Emerson Palmieri should start at left-back yet again and perhaps could be the weak link that England look to exploit.
At the base of the three-man midfield unit, Jorginho will have a major role to play in stopping England from building attacks while also aiding Italy to control the proceedings with his razor-sharp distribution. Nicolo Barella and Marco Verratti ought to take up the remaining two midfield slots, with the duo tasked with pressing the English players incessantly while also providing a creative outlet going forward.
Federico Chiesa has been preferred to Domenico Berardi in the quarter-final and semi-final clashes. And having repaid his manager’s faith with a well-taken goal against Spain, the winger is likely to be retained on the right, ahead of Domenico Berardi. On the left, there is no looking past the livewire Lorenzo Insigne, who can pose a serious threat to the England defence with his infield runs from the wide areas.
Ciro Immobile is yet to fire at the Euros but is likely to be preferred as the No.9 against the physical English defence. However, there is the possibility of Mancini opting to use Insigne as a false nine, flanked by Chiesa and Berardi.
Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
England have been hit with a fresh injury scare heading into the final as Phil Foden has picked up a knock in training on the eve of the game. It remains to be seen if the Manchester City ace recovers in time for the big game. Apart from him, Gareth Southgate has no other issues and has plenty of options in the attacking unit in case Foden does get ruled out.
The England manager has preferred the 4-2-3-1 formation for the majority of the Euros and is unlikely to ditch it for a three-man defensive unit that he has used in the past, for the game against Italy. Jordan Pickford will man the goal for the Three Lions, shielded by the backline of John Stones and Harry Maguire, who have been rock-solid in recent games.
Kyle Walker is a certainty at right-back ahead of former Tottenham teammate Kieran Trippier while Luke Shaw will slot in on the left. The Manchester United star has been in top form, acting as one of England’s key chance-creators, but will have his task cut out against the lively Chiesa on Sunday.
Jordan Henderson has been making a claim for more regular involvement with each passing game. And while his experience could be handy for a game of this magnitude, Southgate should back the duo of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips for the double pivot, considering the brilliant job that the two have done so far.
Mason Mount, meanwhile, will slot in as the No. 10, looking to escape the attention of club teammate Jorginho and create openings for his attackers. Raheem Sterling and captain Harry Kane are nailed on for two of the three spots in attack. On the right, it will be interesting to see who Southgate opts to go with, with Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka both viable options. The latter could be retained after a bright display against Denmark.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane
- This will be the 28th meeting between Italy and England. Of the previous 27, the former have picked up eleven wins, while the latter have won eight times, with the remaining eight ending in draws.
- This is Italy’s 10th major tournament final appearance (6 World Cup, 4 Euros). Having won the 1968 European Championship, the Azzurri have lost in each of their last two finals in the competition in 2000 and 2012.
- This will be the first-ever appearance for England in a European Championship final and their first final of a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup. It is the longest gap between major final appearances (World Cup/Euros) for any European nation (55 years).
- Italy have never lost against England at a major tournament (W3 D1). The Azzurri won 1-0 at Euro 1980, 2-1 at both the 1990 and 2014 World Cups and won 4-2 on penalties at Euro 2012 after a goalless draw.
- England have won 15 of their last 17 matches at Wembley (D1 L1), scoring 46 goals and conceding just five in that run. They are unbeaten in their last 12 matches in all competitions (W11 D1).
Player in Focus
Giorgio Chiellini (Italy)
One of the two players that remain from Italy’s last major final appearance, at UEFA Euro 2012, Chiellini had to endure a heartbreak that time out as he was hauled off injury even as Spain cruised to a handsome win. And he will be hoping to correct the wrongs of the past on Sunday when he takes the field at Wembley.
An infectious leader, Chiellini’s attitude and energy rub off on his teammates, which has played a key role in their final run at times when things have not been going their way. The 36-year-old may not be the same player he was a few years ago but can still hold his own against the best, as he showed against Romelu Lukaku in the quarter-final. Up next will be another elite striker in Harry Kane. Stop him, and the battle could be half won for Italy.
Harry Kane (England)
It will be captain vs captain for our Player in Focus section for the final, with Harry Kane’s output set to be key for England’s chances on Sunday. Raheem Sterling has been top class for the Three Lions, without a doubt, but the way Kane has stepped up in the face of criticism after a slow start to the tournament has been admirable.
Four goals in three knockout games, including the match-winning strike against Denmark, show the value that he brings to the table; not to mention his impeccable playmaking abilities that have come to the fore over the past year.
On Sunday, the 27-year-old will need to overcome a difficult test against two of the most experienced, wily defenders in Leonardo Bonucci and Chiellini. As the old adage goes, though, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Italy 1-2 England (After Extra time)
Is it coming home or going to Rome? That will be the question on every football fan’s mind as we gear up for the finale at Wembley on Sunday night. Two teams that have shown to be formidable at the back and dangerous in attack will collide, so we can expect a tightly-contested encounter, that in all likelihood, could go into extra time, or even penalties for that matter.
As solid as they have been, Italy showed in the game against Spain that they can be vulnerable in defence, and England have an attack capable of exploiting such vulnerabilities, unlike La Roja. Furthermore, the Three Lions will be buoyed by the thousands of fans at Wembley, which should play a factor, too.
Throw in the bench strength at Gareth Southgate’s disposal – Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden (if fit), all genuine game-changers, the scales might be tipped slightly in favour of the home team. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts a narrow win for England after 120 minutes of gruelling battle. However, do not be surprised if it ended up going into penalties.