The curtain closes on a mesmerizing summer of Euro 2020 football this Sunday, as supporters arrive at Wembley Stadium en masse to witness Italy and England do battle for the continental championship trophy.
Roberto Mancini’s side booked their place in the showpiece event after coming up trumps in nerve-wracking penalty shootout against Spain, while England needed 120 minutes of their own to send Denmark packing 2-1 in the semi-finals.
It has been 53 years since Italy got their hands on the trophy, while the Three Lions are playing in their first major tournament final for 55 years as Gareth Southgate endeavours to write his own chapter of history.
During Manchester City’s infamous Premier League title win of 2012, Robert Mancini was warned by Martin Tyler that he would “never see anything like this ever again”. Win the Euros with Italy, however, and that will surely be a close second.
With the wise old heads in defence, an irrepressible trio of talent in midfield and a fear-inducing attacking trident, Italy may have gone under the radar slightly before the first ball was kicked at Euro 2020, but the continental dominance has been there for all to see since 2018.
Failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia seems totally incomprehensible given how Mancini’s men have swept aside the competition over the past three years, but not since the days of Dino Zoff and Luigi Riva have the Azzurri stepped foot onto the turf for a European Championship final and come up trumps.
However, the Italians may just be 90 minutes away from ending that agonising 53-year wait for continental silverware, as after sweeping aside Turkey, Switzerland and Wales in the group stage without shipping a single goal, Mancini’s men did the business in three gruelling knockout encounters.
While Roberto Mancini is working with a near fully-fit squad for the Euro 2020 final, thoughts will be spared for the unfortunate Leonardo Spinazzola, who caught the eye with his showings at left-back before rupturing his Achilles tendon against Belgium.
The Roma man is now facing a painful six-month rehabilitation spell as Emerson Palmieri prepares to step foot onto familiar surroundings in his place, while Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci – at a combined age of 70 – will shield soon-to-be Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Locatelli’s performances in the group stage led to reported interest from Arsenal and Juventus among others, but Marco Verratti’s return to fitness has forced the Sassuolo man to take a back seat as the silky PSG man links up with Jorginho and Nicolo Barella in the engine room.
Ciro Immobile made headlines for all the wrong reasons with his antics against Belgium, but the Lazio man is under no pressure up top from Andrea Belotti as Mancini keeps faith in the attacking trio of Chiesa, Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne.
The Azzurri coach has had a full selection of players available to him following their semi-final win over Spain – barring Spinazzola – and an unchanged lineup should take to the field despite two laborious 120-minute encounters.
England also came through 120 minutes of football against Denmark largely unscathed, and as he has done all summer long, Southgate must decide between another 4-2-3-1 setup or the three-man defence which worked to great effect against Germany.
The Three Lions coach has largely settled on his strongest XI despite his penchant for tweaking formation, and the only uncertainty for the rearguard would be whether Kyle Walker moves in centrally in a three or continues out on the right-hand side in a four.
Luke Shaw will have the inenviable task of keeping Chiesa quiet as Harry Maguire and John Stones form a more youthful centre-back pairing than that of their counterparts, while Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips are set to resume their midfield partnership.
Saka was once again given the nod on the right for the semi-final and played a key role in his side’s equaliser, so the Arsenal teenager should not be dropped despite pressure from the likes of Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden – who is doubtful with a foot issue – and Jack Grealish.
Kane is after a slice of his own personal history here, as a goal in the final would see him overtake Gary Lineker as England’s most prolific goalscorer in major tournaments, while he is only three away from breaking into the top five of the Three Lions’ all-time scoring charts.
Italy possible starting lineup:
Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson; Jorginho, Barella, Verratti; Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne
England possible starting lineup:
Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Rice, Phillips; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane
Head To Head
Sunday’s Euro 2020 final marks the 28th meeting between Italy and England in all competitions, with the Azzurri boasting 11 wins compared to eight for the Three Lions.
Italy knocked England out on penalties en route to the Euro 2012 final, and the Azzurri also prevailed in the only other European Championship meeting between the two sides – a 1-0 win during the group stage of Euro 1980.
However, the two nations have played out two 1-1 draws in friendlies since 2015, and victory for England at Wembley would also mark the first time in history that they have beaten Italy at a major tournament.
We say: Italy 2-2 England (a.e.t, Italy to win on penalties)
Both teams have the defence solidity required to shut up shop. Both teams have the attacking guile required to breach the other’s rearguard. There are no two ways about it – this will be a final for the ages.
The loss of Spinazzola is undoubtedly huge for Italy, and with the likes of Saka and Sterling testing the old guard’s pace with their runs in behind, we would not put it past England’s attackers to notch up a couple of goals here.
However, we do not think this encounter will be settled over the course of 90 or even 120 minutes. No fan from either nation wants the final to be decided by a penalty shootout, but that is the direction we expect Sunday’s battle to head in, and Mancini’s side will hope to rely on their recent experience from 12 yards to prevent football from coming home.