Dubai: It has been 55 years since England last made it to a major final of a men’s football tournament. There wouldn’t have been too many in the 60,000 crowd at Wembley during the semifinal win over Denmark that would even remember the 1966 World Cup final win against West Germany. Most in attendance were probably not even born.
It hasn’t been that England have been terrible in the preceding years, they have actually been very unlucky. They got to the semifinal of Italia 90 but lost against Germany on penalties. Then they made it to the semifinal of Euro 96. But again, they suffered penalty heartache and again it was at the hands of the Germans. At the 2018 World Cup in Russia, they were beaten in extra time by Croatia, again in the semifinal. But at Euro 2020, it seems their luck has turned.
Not only did Gareth Southgate’s men finally get one over Germany in the last 16, but they were awarded a fortunate penalty against the Danes in the semi and find themselves in all-new territory. It won’t be easy against Italy and the question on everyone’s lip is: will football come home, or go to Rome?
The Three Lions will feel confident of their chances and rightly so. Southgate is leading the team into an exciting new era with a young squad that is full of quality and who are free of the burdens and heavy expectations of the past. Captain Harry Kane had a slow start to the tournament but he is hitting form when it matters the most and if Raheem Sterling can produce yet another stellar performance, they should give veterans Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini – who have a combined age of 70 – something to worry about.
The Azzuri will be without attacking left-back Leonardo Spinnazola and he is a big miss; in their semifinal against Spain, they lacked a cutting edge especially down the left side – this may allow right-back Kyle Walker some freedom to venture forward and join in with attacks as he won’t have to worry about Spinnazola’s replacement Emerson as much as he tends to sit back more. But I don’t see England reproducing the front-foot display that destroyed Ukraine 4-0 in the quarterfinal, that would be too risky against this Italian side.
The Azzurri have proven to be the best attacking team in the tournament but they will have to be at their best to break down the team with the best defensive record. England have conceded only a solitary goal in the entire competition and that is thanks to the form of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford but worryingly, he looked very shaky in the semi against Denmark. He will have to hold his nerve in the final - both John Stones and Harry McGuire playing directly in front of him will need to keep a close eye on the keeper who is known to make costly mistakes for his club side Everton.
Italy have plenty of momentum after a hugely impressive campaign; Roberto Mancini’s men won all their group games, then saw of Austria in the last before dispatching the world’s number-one ranked team, Belgium, and then held their nerve to see of Spain on penalties. Currently on a 33-match unbeaten run, they sure are making up for missing the 2018 World Cup. This will be their 10th major tournament final and fourth at the European Championship. They won it in 1968 but came runners-up in 2000 and 2012. England have won just one of the last eight meetings against the Italians but with over 60,000 fans expected to be in attendance at Wembley, they will be hoping Italy’s losing streak in the final continues.
Possible starting XI: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Phillips, Rice; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane
Possible starting XI: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson; Barella, Jorginho, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
Group A: Italy 3 Switzerland 0
Group A: Italy 1 Wales 0
Round of 16: Italy 2 Austria 1 (aet)
Quarter-final: Belgium 1 Italy 2
Semi-final: Italy 1 Spain 1 (aet, Italy won 4-2 on penalties)
Group D: England 0 Scotland 0
Group D: Czech Republic 0 England 1
Round of 16: England 2 Germany 0
Quarter-final: Ukraine 0 England 4
Semi-final: England 2 Denmark 1 (aet)
Italy wins: 11
The Three Lions won the match 2-1 to set up a final against Italy on Sunday but the result was soured by a number of controversial incidents on the night. Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel had a laser pen shone in his eyes before Harry Kane took his extra-time penalty while earlier, the Danish national anthem was booed before kick-off by a number of fans and several others set off flares.
UEFA has said that England will be charged for all three incidents and although it is not clear what the punishment will be, the English FA are expected to be hit with a big fine.