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11 July, 2021

ROUTE TO THE EURO FINAL

ROUTE TO THE EURO FINAL
How England and Italy made it all the way?

Six games played and four rounds successfully navigated – now only one hurdle remains. Either Italy will get their hands on the trophy for the second time, or England are to lift a major title for the first time since 1966.

Our dedicated team reporters – Paolo Menicucci and Simon Hart – have followed the ups and downs of their nations every step of the way and look back over all of the matches prefacing Sunday’s showpiece at Wembley Stadium.

Italy

Group A: Turkey 0-3 Italy (Merih Demiral 53 og, Immobile 66, Insigne 79)

Paolo Menicucci, Italy team reporter: A more than promising start. After lacking only the final touch during a dominant first-half performance, the Azzurri took the lead courtesy of an own goal and immediately went for the jugular.

Group A: Italy 3-0 Switzerland (Locatelli 26 52, Immobile 89)

PM: Another scintillating display by Italy, who at this point were 29 games unbeaten and had not conceded in their last ten. They were starting to play like a well-oiled orchestra rather than a collection of individual talents and continued to show great enthusiasm.

Group A: Italy 1-0 Wales (Pessina 39)

PM: A perfect group stage record posted and key players rested on Matchday 3. The Azzurri passed their Group A test with flying colours and could travel to London with the wind in their sails.

Round of 16: Italy 2-1 Austria, aet (Chiesa 95, Pessina 105; Kalajdzic 114)

PM: Roberto Mancini continued to stress how there are 26 first-choice players in this team and the substitutes proved him right once again, making the difference when it was most needed.

Quarter-finals: Belgium 1-2 Italy (Lukaku 45+2pen; Barella 31, Insigne 44)

PM: They had to go beyond their limits to beat a team like Belgium and the Azzurri did just that. It was a great collective effort: from goalkeeper Donnarumma and veteran centre-backs Bonucci and Chiellini, to conductor Jorginho and goalscorers Barella and Insigne.

Semi-finals: Italy 1-1 Spain, 4-2 pens (Chiesa 60; Morata 80)

PM: On a night that proved more difficult that many expected, Italy still managed to reach the final as Spain failed to make the most of the chances they created. After failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in 2018, the Azzurri have made giant steps in returning to the European football elite.

England

Group D: England 1-0 Croatia (Sterling 57)

Simon Hart, England team reporter: England achieved a first by winning their opening match. Beforehand Gareth Southgate stood and had a quiet moment of reflection alone on the pitch; by the end Wembley had erupted in noisy celebration and his team were up and running.

Group D: England 0-0 Scotland

Group D: England 0-0 Scotland

SH: England’s winning streak ended at seven but this was probably a point gained on an enthralling night when Scotland had the better chances. Just one attempt on target is a statistic that might have concerned Southgate.

Group D: Czech Republic 0-1 England (Sterling 12)

SH: England gave us a dynamic first-half display, full of pace and movement, and were rewarded with Sterling’s second goal of this EURO. The return of Harry Maguire after his 44-day absence was another positive for Southgate.

Round of 16: England 2-0 Germany (Sterling 75, Kane 86)

SH: Southgate’s ghostbusters did it again with this long-awaited tournament knockout win over Germany. It wasn’t coming home just yet, but England could head to their Rome quarter-final with a spring in their step.

Quarter-finals: Ukraine 0-4 England (Kane 4 50, Maguire 46, Henderson 63)

SH: The Three Lions’ biggest victory at any EURO and Southgate’s men by now were developing an irresistible momentum. With five clean sheets at one end and Kane’s mojo recovered at the other, they could return to Wembley full of belief. It was a brilliant collective effort that secured England’s first back-to-back semi-finals since 1968.

Semi-finals: England 2-1 Denmark, aet (Kjær 39 og, Kane 104; Damsgaard 30)

SH: After semi-final defeats in 1968, 1990, 1996 and 2018, England finally made it to a first final since the 1966 World Cup. They did it the hard way, coming from behind with the support of a roaring Wembley, and drawing on some harsh lessons from the past to finally get across the line. Southgate, the man whose penalty miss cost England in a 1996 semi, had buried yet another demon.


ITALY-ENGLAND: NOTABLE GAMES

England and Italy are familiar adversaries on the international scene, having pitted their wits against each other on 27 occasions dating back to 1933.

The Azzurri hold the slightest of edges in those meetings, with ten victories to the Three Lions’ eight, and our trek back through the archives suggests there will be little to separate them again when they reconvene for the UEFA EURO 2020 final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday evening. We take a look back at six of the standout contests between these European heavyweights.

Italy 2-1 England, 2014 World Cup group stage

The last competitive meeting between these sides was their opening game at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in the tropical climate of Manaus, Brazil, and it was Roy Hodgson’s men left feeling the heat. Claudio Marchisio’s fine strike gave Cesare Prandelli’s charges the lead, but the Three Lions levelled quickly as Raheem Sterling and Wayne Rooney combined to set up Daniel Sturridge.

The winner came via the head of Mario Balotelli four minutes into the second half, though it proved the only victory for either side at the finals as both were eliminated in the group stage. Curiously, Björn Kuipers was the referee that day – just as he will be in Sunday’s final.

England 0-0aet Italy (pens: 2-4), EURO 2012 quarter-finals

These two nations are no strangers to a penalty shoot-out and it took a nerve-shredding one to send the Azzurri through on a dramatic night in Kyiv. There were plenty of chances for Prandelli’s side to avoid such a scenario in the first 90 minutes, with Daniele De Rossi rattling the bar and both Balotelli and Riccardo Montolivo blazing over.

Alessandro Diamanti also struck the frame of the goal in extra time, but he would have his moment by dispatching the winning penalty after Ashley Young and Ashley Cole could not convert – though Andrea Pirlo’s Panenka spot kick was the one that took the plaudits.

England 2-0 Italy, 1997 Le Tournoi

The Three Lions may not have lifted a major trophy since the 1966 World Cup, but there was much buzz about Glenn Hoddle’s charges after they scooped the silverware at this four-team summer tournament. It all began when they opened the competition with a convincing victory in Nantes against an Italy side they had not beaten in nearly 20 years.

Paul Scholes, making his full debut, was the star, setting up Ian Wright for the opener with a glorious long pass then adding the second with a thumping strike before the interval. England beat France 1-0 to secure the trophy even before they succumbed to Brazil in their last game.

Italy 2-1 England, 1990 World Cup third-place play-off

Both sides had suffered heart-breaking defeats on penalties in the semi-finals, but there was an air of celebration at their achievements as they faced off for third place in Bari. Understandably, it took a while for the game to spring into life, though eventually it did when Roberto Baggio danced through to clip Italy in front in the 71st minute.

David Platt’s bullet header hauled Bobby Robson’s outfit level before Salvatore Schillaci sealed victory – and the Golden Boot – by winning and converting an 86th-minute penalty for Azeglio Vicini’s hosts.

England 0-1 Italy, EURO 1980 group stage

There was much more riding on these nations’ first EURO finals meeting when they locked horns in Turin in their second group stage match. Both had drawn their openers and, with only the group winners advancing to the final, they knew that defeat would end their hopes.

Enzo Bearzot’s team seized their chance, Marco Tardelli turning in Francesco Graziani’s 79th-minute cross to keep their hopes alive against an England side that hit the post through Ray Kennedy. The Azzurri could not break down Belgium in their final Group 2 outing, however, and would finish fourth after losing the third-place game to Czechoslovakia.

Italy 0-4 England, 1948 friendly

This was England’s first ever success away to Italy and remains their biggest. The margin of victory underlined the quality of a star-studded England team containing the likes of Billy Wright, Wilf Mannion and Stanley Matthews – and they were just the high-profile names not to get on the scoresheet!

Stan Mortensen struck early from the narrowest of angles and Tommy Lawton swept home a second before half-time for Walter Winterbottom’s purring machine. A quickfire double from the great Tom Finney – the first from a delightful Mannion cross – capped an emphatic win.


ITALY VS ENGLAND PREVIEW

After two epic semi-finals, London now hosts a decider which, for the first time in EURO history, will feature England.

Since their 1966 FIFA World Cup triumph at the previous Wembley Stadium, England have lost in the semi-finals of five major tournaments: EURO ’68 and ’96, the 1990 and 2018 World Cups, and the 2019 UEFA Nations League. However, they have hurdled Germany, Ukraine and, in extra time on Wednesday night, Denmark to earn their chance to end – to paraphrase a popular song – 55 years of hurt.

Italy’s sole EURO title came as hosts back in 1968. They also lost the finals of 2000 and 2012, although since first becoming continental champions they have won two of their four World Cups. The Azzurri beat Spain on penalties on Tuesday and if that, technically, halted their 13-game winning streak (and record of 15 EURO victories in a row, qualifying included), they still remain unbeaten in 33. A remarkable turnaround for a team who, while England reached the 2018 World Cup semis, did not even qualify for Russia. However, sitting out a preceding World Cup did not stop Czechoslovakia in 1976, Denmark in 1992 or Greece in 2004 claiming the European crown.

Predicted line-ups

Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
Out: Spinazzola (Achilles)

England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane
Doubtful: Foden (minor knock)

Reporters’ views

Paolo Menicucci, Italy reporter: It may not have been the best Italy performance in the semi-final against Spain but there is one aspect that really impressed me. The Azzurri seem to play with no kind of pressure. Even when the game went to penalties, there were plenty of smiles and laughs, something we are used to seeing while watching them training at Coverciano.

They probably know they have already achieved something special in regaining the love of an entire country and plenty of respect at international level. This is the best spirit in which to face England at Wembley. Now all they need is the icing on the cake.

Simon Hart, England reporter: England have already made history by reaching their first EURO final. Gareth Southgate’s men have gained momentum and conviction by logging a number of milestones marked by one common denominator: 1966. After all, not since that World Cup triumph under Alf Ramsey had England got through a group phase without conceding, or eliminated Germany, or scored four times in a knockout game. Or, of course, reached a final.

A team defined by their togetherness are now just one step from emulating the boys of ’66. Italy’s pressing game will present a challenge, but this side have risen to every other challenge so far. With the Wembley crowd behind them, they will believe this is their moment.

View from the camps

Roberto Mancini, Italy coach: “We have been working towards this for many years so we are very happy and I can only thank the players for what they have done so far. We have won nothing yet; we will have to win on Sunday to consider it a success. England will have an entire stadium behind them. It will be on us to put them under pressure. A final is a bit different from other games – we will have to play with focus but also with joy because you can only win a final if you take the field to have fun.”

Giorgio Chiellini, Italy captain: “We’ll need to have a strong heart and a clear head. There will be moments when we need to brave and others when we need to be flexible. You can’t go into a game thinking you’ll be in control for the full 90 minutes. It’s a final and we’ll need to take care of the details in order to win it. Games like these may not come along again for me in my playing career – it’s special to be part of it. We’re aware of just how important this game is. Light-heartedness and a little bit of madness have got us this far and we’ll need them tomorrow if we’re to win this cup.”

Gareth Southgate, England manager: “The reality of any team is that we never get these 26 players together again. It just doesn’t work that way. They’ve left a great legacy, whatever happens, but now it’s about the colour of the medal, and you get very few opportunities in your life to do something like this. So we have to seize that moment and give ourselves the best chance of winning. Probably, [at the 2018 World Cup] in Russia, we were feeling a little bit differently about getting to the semi-final and what we really believed was possible, whereas now we know that we’ll still be unfulfilled if we get to Monday and haven’t won the tournament.”

Harry Kane, England forward: “We have a great belief in the team. We have great strength in the squad but a lot can happen in a final and we need to make sure we’re on the right side of it. We’ve been knocking down barriers along the way but we started this tournament with an aim to win it and we’ve now got the opportunity. To see the fans on the street like they have been and to see the reception we’ve had as we’ve pulled into the hotel and as we left St George’s Park, it just shows us how big an occasion it is.”


KEY BATTLES: ITALY VS ENGLAND

Italy take on England in the UEFA EURO 2020 final on Sunday as the quest for continental glory reaches a climax at Wembley Stadium.

Both teams will kick off with serious credentials, the Azzurri now unbeaten in 33 games while the Three Lions have only conceded once all tournament. Could these head-to-head tussles ultimately decide who lifts the trophy?

Federico Chiesa vs Luke Shaw

Luke Shaw has been terrific when raiding down the left in this tournament, notably against Germany and Ukraine, and ranks as England’s leading chance-creator with nine. On Sunday, however, the Manchester United man may have to be at his best defensively against an in-form Federico Chiesa.

The Juventus forward brings energy and electric pace, not to mention a sharp shot – as demonstrated by his two goals in the tournament so far: a laser strike from a tight angle against Austria in the round of 16, then a perfectly curled effort against Spain in the semi-finals.

The 23-year-old has already proved to be a big-game player at club level, scoring crucial goals last season for Juventus in the UEFA Champions League and the Coppa Italia final. Will he also leave his mark in the biggest match of his career? If so, Shaw may face a repeat of his semi-final frustrations, when the task of containing Martin Braithwaite limited his attacking impact.

Giovanni Di Lorenzo vs Raheem Sterling

When Raheem Sterling was contesting the 2018 FIFA World Cup semi-finals with England, after leading Manchester City to the Premier League title with 18 goals, Giovanni Di Lorenzo – one year his senior – was watching the tournament from his native Tuscany.

The right-back had just won promotion from Serie B with Empoli. Only a year earlier, he had been playing in the Italian third division with Matera, a side from the spectacular southern town famed for its ‘Città dei Sassi’ (City of Stones) but anything but a footballing powerhouse.

Di Lorenzo began the tournament as a squad player but has not looked back since Alessandro Florenzi suffered a calf injury in the opening game against Turkey, producing a series of solid performances. His most difficult night to date was against Belgium youngster Jeremy Doku; in Sterling, he will encounter a forward of a different class – a Player of the Tournament contender with the bit between his teeth, who has taken on defenders more often than anybody else at this EURO (29 times).

A goal for Sterling could be curtains for Italy, given that England have never lost when he has scored. So, for Di Lorenzo, a little help from a friend – namely centre-back Leonardo Bonucci – may well be needed here.

Jorginho vs Mason Mount

Jorginho and Mason Mount know each other inside out, having won the UEFA Champions League together with Chelsea only six weeks ago. Will that knowledge give either an advantage? Difficult to say. Certainly Mount will be aware that Italy’s game passes through the feet and brain of his Stamford Bridge team-mate, but Jorginho has plenty of respect likewise for the 22-year-old, whom he has described as being “always in the right position” and a player who “works for the whole team”.

Mount is a clever footballer capable of finding space and intelligent out of possession too (witness his efforts to help shackle Luka Modrić for Chelsea against Real Madrid last season). He has clearly earned Southgate’s admiration and trust, and any direct encounters with Jorginho should provide an intriguing battle of wits as both men look to join the group of nine players who have previously won the EURO trophy and the UEFA Champions League in the same year.

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