Euro 2020: Day 30
Just one more game stands between this England side and true greatest. Just one more blog post. Today is all about looking head to the final tonight against Italy, with the final post tomorrow hopefully having a victorious undertone! The 2 sides have met a total of 27 times to date, Italy slightly edging things with 10 wins, 9 draws, and 8 victories for England, the pair meeting most recently in a 1-1 friendly at Wembley back in March 2018, Vardy scoring for England and Insigne equalising from the spot with just minutes remaining.
Of the team that started that day, only Walker, Stones and Sterling are likely to feature in the final, with 5 of the Italians from that match likely to start for the Azurri, who have since changed their manager. The last competitive game came back in the 2014 World Cup finals, Italy winning 2-1, the game featuring coincidentally the same referee who will take charge this evening.
A Marco Tardelli goal handed Italy the win back in 1980, and a 4-2 penalty win in 2012 also saw the Italians progress in Kiev the only two times the sides have met in the European Championship. Italy have lifted the title once, while England are searching their first ever tournament victory, having never even reached the final previously, falling twice at the semi-final hurdle while Italy will be appearing in their fourth final this evening, with the potential to become just one of four sides to win the competition more than once since its inception in 1958.
Italy famously reached the final 9 years ago, being brushed aside by Spain 4-0 in Kiev, and both Bonucci and Chiellini, who will be again at the heart of the Italian defence, played in that heavy defeat, and will be looking for redemption at Wembley. England manager Gareth Southgate, who played the last time England fell at the semi-final stage, and was guilty of a crucial penalty miss, also at Wembley, will also be looking for redemption, although arguably having taken the national side to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2018 and the final here, he has already found it.
England have the option to switch to a back 5, as they did against Germany, although given how Italy set up I would expect them to stick with a back four in this one, meaning the only key decision will be that around the 3rd attacking player in my opinion, where we may see the introduction once more of a Phil Foden or Jadon Sancho, more likely the latter in my honest opinion, given both the ageing Italy back line and also the propensity for the full backs to get forward, Emerson again in for the injured Spinazzola.
Further forward, Harry Kane seems to have found his form at the right time, bizarrely meaning he is now in contention for the golden boot, despite such a lean start in front of goal, not finding the net for the first time until the knockout stages of the competition. His 4 goals is double that of any of his Italian counterparts, with Immobile, Chiesa, Insigne, Locatelli and Pessina all on two for Italy, perhaps underlining their strength in depth, especially in the midfield areas.
The return of Marco Verratti, who missed the start of the tournament due to injury, has made a difference and seen Italy looking more solid, albeit they have conceded twice since his re-introduction, while England welcomed back Harry Maguire in similar circumstances, the centre-half also helping himself to a goal in the 4-0 thrashing of Ukraine. Much has been made about the defence of England, and what some perceive as a negative system at times, with 2 holding midfielders employed in front of the back four, but I think they have also benefitted from the understanding between Maguire and Shaw, and Stones and Walker, at club level. Added to that the fact Maguire, Stones and Walker all hail from South Yorkshire, I think that has really helped the bound between them for which England are now benefitting.
The debate will always be about further forward, where there is a wealth of talent, including talents such as Phil Foden and Jack Grealish who have the ability to turn a game, as Foden especially showed coming off the bench against Denmark and posing an immediate threat, as Grealish had also done in earlier games. Added to that the pace and power of Sancho, the energy of Saka, and the quality of Rashford, and you can begin to see just what a difficult decision it is. One thing he has clearly got right though is the inclusion of Raheem Sterling, often a scapegoat, and a player many wanted dropping coming into the tournament, he is now probably the star player for England during this run to the final, and one more solid game could see him win the player of the tournament such has been his impact, constantly unsettling defences and making things happen even when his finishing hasn’t always been the greatest.
Italy have seen similar attacking threat from Federico Chiesa since his introduction into the side, the young Juventus forward scoring vital goals, but again also having that ability to look like making something happen every time he is in possession, and it is between him and Sterling where I feel the game may be decided. I picked Italy pre-tournament, so am in a position where I already have a bet on the line in this game, one I would be delighted to lose obviously, but in terms of how it plays out I think neither side will keep a clean sheet in this one, probably both looking to trade early blows to hurt the other, before the game becoming more defensive later on, with neither wanting to make a mistake. Whatever happens, we should be proud once more of how well the team has done, how the nation has pulled together and the genuine feel good factor we’ve been given by this squad of players after a challenging few years… before we all go back to hating each other again at the start of next season.Share this: