It is England vs Italy. One team playing at home and another doing well to reach the final while keeping a long undefeated record intact. England for all intents and purposes have had a home advantage throughout although the Michel Platini inspired European wide Euros have been spread around the European continent.
The hype around the England team is at an all time high. The “It’s coming home” motto has been flung wide open for a team that has never won this championship. A rejuvenated and more attacking Italy came in with an undefeated record. A record that has allowed the team to forget the disaster that was the 2018 World Cup non-qualification.
The group stages of this one year delayed Euro 2020 were often mediocre and tired looking. A good number of teams seemed powerless for long periods and the only reason many did better than expected or were seen to on paper was because of the format that allows 16 of 24 team to qualify for the knockout stages. The knockout stages themselves brought more excitement, come backs and intrigue without being innovative or groundbreaking in other, for example tactical, terms.
VAR and refereeing continued to be abysmal at times and while some still insist that video assisted refereeing is improving the game missed fouls, wrong penalties and wasted time VAR checks for non clear and obvious ref errors say otherwise. One such error was not overturning a dive that has played a big part in England getting to this final itself.
Italy lost one of their best players in Leonardo Spinazzola with an achilles tear but overcame Spain in the semis. England overcame Denmark, who wrote their own story written long before reaching the semis, to get here.
England’s wide play has given opponents trouble. Raheem Sterling’s pace can do the same to Italy. Spinazzola would have offered similar pace down the left for Italy but his replacement, likely to be Emerson, won’t be as quick. Down the middle England’s double pivots, often Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips, have done well in recovering and providing forward movement. Jorginho has done even better for Italy, playing a key interceptor and play starter in the middle of the pitch. He and whoever surrounds him – two of Manuel Locatelli, Marco Verratti or Nicolo Barella – will have their hands as full in dealing with speed and skills of Sterling, Mason Mount and likely Bukayo Saka. England can throw in Phil Foden and/or Jack Grealish to trouble Italy even more. All the while Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham stand ready giving England much greater depth than the Azzurri.
Italy feature Ciro Immobile upfront. The Lazio man has been misfiring and may even be dropped in favour of a so called false 9. This would mean Italy would play without a recognized center forward and feature Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Chiesa and Domenico Berardi up front. Andrea Belotti is the only other center forward option and hasn’t fared much better than Immobile. Italy have excelled at the back however. The Juventus duo of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci combine for 219 caps and 70 years and have been leaders on the pitch. Chiellini in particular has been near his best while wearing the captain’s armband.
The dreaded shootout remains a possibility. Let’s hope the game is decided in 90 (or 120) minutes to spare us from the irrelevancy of a penalty kick contest.