9,146 days since the heartbreaking loss on penalties against Germany in the EURO 96 Semi-Final, and 1,096 days since the agonising defeat against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, England once again finds itself on the verge of major international glory.
50 games down, and 1 more to go. The Grand Final of EURO 2020 will be contested between England and Italy inside Wembley Stadium, and does anyone really know who will win out of the two?
Italy’s route to the final has seen them beat some of Europe’s best, with wins over Belgium and Spain in the Quarter-Finals and Semi-Finals respectively, Roberto Mancini’s men have shown just why they’re unbeaten in their last 30+ competitive games for a reason.
England meanwhile has also enjoyed a fantastic run to the final, albeit one slightly easier than the Azzurri’s. Finishing top of Group D, dominant knockout victories over Germany and Ukraine before a tense win over a stubborn Denmark saw Gareth Southgate’s side secure the hosts their spot in Sunday’s Final.
Despite both reaching this year’s final, neither England nor Italy have enjoyed much success in the European Championships: Italy’s sole win came in 1964, back when the tournament was only contested between 4 nations, with Italy beating Yugoslavia after winning via coin toss against the Soviet Union, who then lost a 3rd place game to England. England meanwhile has never won the competition, and until this year’s tournament had only ever won one knockout game; against Spain in 1996.
The question must be asked whether it’s acceptable for Italy to question why England has been gifted over 60,000 fans in support for this upcoming clash, given Italy’s European Championship win came…in Italy.
So who will win Sunday’s all-important match: well, if we look at it purely head-to-head, then it’s 50-50.
Jordan Pickford and Gianluigi Donnarumma have both enjoyed successful tournaments, with the former having already scooped the ‘Golden Glove’ award for most clean sheets. Where Pickford has the reactions and shot stopping ability, Donnarumma has the reach and positioning. Both keepers will need to be on the top of their game, as it’s likely to only come down to just one goalkeeping mistake to settle this match.
England’s defence has been a surprise revelation: the attacking potency of full backs Kyle Walker and Luke Shaw is perfect with combined with the defensive stability John Stones and Harry Maguire have established in front of Pickford. With only 1 goal conceded, Damsgaard’s free kick that arguably shouldn’t have been awarded, England will feel confident they can repel the Italian attack.
Although they are without Spinazzola, Italy’s defensive reputation still precedes them, and although they are not in their 90s glory days with Baresi and Maldini, Juventus duo Bonucci and Chiellini have shown that age is just a number, as Italy have rightfully conceded the least amount of shots in the entire tournament. Though their lack of pace is easily exploitable by England’s fast front 3.
Much like in the buildup to the game against Germany, England’s main challenge ahead of the final is how Rice, Phillips, and Mount can match up to whatever midfield trio Mancini opts for: any three of Verratti, Locatelli, Jorginho, or Barella will make Italy feel confident enough to easily defend and keep possession of the ball. The one time Italy has struggled in the midfield battle was against Spain’s Pedri and Busquets, so the Leeds/West Ham centre defensive duo that England fields face the biggest game of their lives on Sunday night.
Both sets of attackers are oddly similar in terms of quality and play style: goalscoring wingers like Raheem Sterling and Federico Chiesa paired with clinical centre forwards in Harry Kane and Ciro Immobile. With the defensive record of both nations, this final won’t be a goalfest.
And should the scores still be level at around 22:20 GMT, and it comes down to one final penalty shootouts, then advantage must go to the Italians. In terms of penalty taking ability, then it’s perfectly balanced, but Italy have already won one penalty shootout this tournament. One striking memory from this tournament was Giorgio Chiellini laughing and smiling in the face of a clearly nervous, stone-faced Jordi Alba, showing the Italians feared nothing, even from the 12 yard spot. England will hope their momentum and victories in their previous two competitive penalty shootouts will catapult them to being favourites, but like most aspects of this final, it’s a coin toss.
The most important football game in a decade for Italy. The most important game in over half a century for England. Whoever wins this final will write their name in history, and may very well lay the foundations of a new international footballing dynasty, much like what we saw in 2008 when Spain ended their sorrow and won a major tournament once more.
Is it coming Home, or going back to Rome, it’s time to find out.