It’s coming home... or is it going Rome? This is the question on the lips of every football fan as we await the highly anticipated Euro 2020 Championship Final.
England and Italy face off in a final that some might tag as the battle of defenses. Both teams boast formidable defenses that have conceded one and three goals respectively throughout the entire tournament.
These two teams weren’t the names on fans and pundits’ lips at the commencement of play. More glamorous sides such as France, Belgium, and Portugal were the favorites for this match. But Italy’s and England’s decision to make solid defense the bedrock of their teams has seen them through even when they weren’t at their best.
Before we talk about what to expect in the final, let’s take a look at how both teams got here.
Road to Final
Italy 3 - 0 Turkey
Italy was placed in a group A that also included Turkey, Wales and Switzerland. In the opening match, Italy claimed a well deserved victory against one of pre-tournament dark horse favorites Turkey. After a very tepid first half, Italy upped the tempo in the second. An own-goal from Merih Demiral opened the floodgates. Further goals from Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile added gloss to the score-line.
Italy 3 - 0 Switzerland
Italy became the first team to secure a spot in the knockout stage of the competition after another 3-0 win against Switzerland. The Swiss put up a better fight than Turkey, but the Azurri still had too much for them. A double from Manuel Locatelli and a late screamer from Immobile helped settle the clash.
Italy 1 - 0 Wales
Having already secured a place in the knockout stage, the Azzurri fielded a much-changed side against Wales. A Matio Pessina goal secured Italy the win over Wales.
Italy 2 - 1 Austria
Italy comfortably won group A by securing the maximum nine points, scoring seven goals and conceding none. Their reward for a perfect group stage was a fixture against Austria in R16. Austria put up a good fight and forced the match into extra-time, but then Italy’s quality off the bench shone, turning the match in Italy’s favor. Extra-time goals from substitutes Federico Chiesa and Pessina made sure that a late goal from Sasa Kalajdzic was only a consolation.
Italy 2 - 1 Belgium
The quarterfinal saw Italy suffocate Belgium in the game of the tournament. The match was played at a frenetic pace and decided by goals from Lorenzo Insigne and Nico Barella. Romelu Lukaku’s goal on the stroke of half-time was not enough as the Italians stayed tight at the back in the second half.
Italy 1 - 1 Spain (penalties 4 - 2)
The Italians booked their place in the final by keeping their nerves from the penalty spot to get the better of Spain. Italy were second-best side in a fixture that lasted 120 minutes. La Roja’s impressive possession-based football pushed Italy backwards, the Italians having to ride their luck at times. A beautiful goal against the run of play by Chiesa was matched by substitute Alvaro Morata’s well-placed finish. Chelsea midfielder Jorginho scored the decisive PK to send the Azzurri to the final.
England 1 - 0 Croatia
England drew group D against Croatia, Czech Republic and Scotland, opening at Wembley. Raheem Sterling’s second-half strike was enough to get England off to the perfect start in what was a toothless display from Croatia.
England 0 - 0 Scotland
England and Scotland played a dismal goalless draw in front of a partisan English crowd to leave both countries with control of qualification in their own hands. Scotland produced a spirited performance to dent England’s hope of securing immediate passage to the Round of 16 with one match to spare.
England 1 - 0 Czech Republic
England had already been assured of a place in the round of 16 before a single ball was kicked in this fixture due to results from other groups. England produced an efficient but uninspiring display, an early goal from Raheem Sterling nicking the victory and sealing the Three Lions’ top spot in the group.
England 2 - 0 Germany
For their unconvincing but group-winning performance, the Three Lions were rewarded with a clash against former world champions Germany. Both sides went into the fixture with question marks hovering around them. Second-half goals from Sterling and Kane were enough to punch England’s ticket to the quarterfinal.
England 4 - 0 Ukraine
England dispelled every doubt entertained by football fans around the world by trashing Ukraine in a magnificent display at both ends of the pitch. Gareth Southgate side was rampant from start to finish in a performance that announced the Three Lions’ readiness to go all the way.
England 2 - 1 Denmark
England squared off against this tournament’s dark horse semifinalist (and neutral’s emotional favorite) Denmark at Wembley stadium in the second semifinal. The Danes started on the front foot, putting England under early pressure. That pressure resulted in a beautiful free-kick goal by Mikkel Damsgaard. England hit back quickly, courtesy of an own-goal after excellent work on the right-wing by Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka.
The English eventually got the all-important winning goal in extra-time through a controversially soft PK drawn by Man City’s Raheem Sterling. A poorly struck Kane penalty was saved by the inspired Kasper Schmeichel, but Kane himself pounced upon the rebound to tuck home the game-winner.
England v Italy Preview
Sunday @ 20:00 BST (London)
Venue: Wembley Stadium
Match officials: Referee – Bjorn Kuipers (NLD)
Asst Ref – Sander Van Roekel (NLD)
Erwin Zeinstra (NLD)
Forth off – Carlos Del Grande (ESP)
VAR Ref – Bastian Dankert (DE)
When Denmark Captain Kasper Schmeichel was asked, “Is it coming home?”, his response was “has it ever been home?” Well on Sunday, the Three Lions will finally have the chance to provide a positive response to his question.
England will be playing in its first final since the famous 1966 extra-time World Cup victory over then West Germany.
The Three Lions come into this final full of confidence after what has been a near perfect tournament that saw them concede for the first time in the semifinal against Denmark. This young England team has displayed the kind of discipline and cool-headedness that was missing in previous tournaments.
Although some might have a thing or two to say due to their perceived conservative style of play, one thing that can’t be disputed is this team’s strong mentality and ability to grind out the needed result.
England is expected to field a 4-2-3-1 formation, which has been deployed for the majority of the competition. Gareth Southgate revealed after the semifinal that “Everyone came through the game OK”, so there shouldn’t be injury surprises in the line-up. One also shouldn’t rule out Gareth Southgate deploying the 3-5-2 formation he used against Spain.
Expected Line up: Pickford, Johnson, Maguire, Stones, Shaw, Rice, Philips, Mount, Saka, Sterling, Kane
Barely three years after missing out on qualification for the World Cup, the Azzurri are in the final of the European Championship. Italy comes in on a highly impressive wave of 33 games unbeaten. They will be hoping make it 34 by the time the referee signals full time Sunday.
The Italians’ positive approach throughout the competition has seen them transcend the stereotypical defensive team that is slow and backward-looking. Roberto Mancini’s new approach has the Italians playing on the front foot and dominating matches throughout this campaign except for the gritty semifinal against Spain.
A long-term Injury to Spinazzola means Emerson should keep his place in the starting-11 for the final. Mancini is expected to go with the same team that began the semi-final against Spain.
Expected Line up: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Emerson, Barrela, Jorginho, Verratti, Chiesa, Insigne, Immobile
Prediction – Too close to call
Whom do you think will win? Which players are you backing to rise to the occasion? Will it be a drab battle of defenses, or do you feel the teams will break out to a goal-fest? Have you heard any late breaking news? Please join us in the comments below, and be sure to tune in during the hour before deadline when we will post the confirmed starting lineups and debate how to react with only minutes to spare!