Is it “coming home” or “going Rome”? This is the question at the tip of everybody’s tongues at the moment. We’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out. The stage is set for one last showdown before we bring down the curtain on what has been an amazing tournament. Here’s how Italy and England reached the final.
Road to the Final: Italy
In the tournament opener, Italy faced off against Turkey, tipped to be the dark horse candidate in a tricky Group A. The Azzuri dismantled the Crescent Stars 3-0, and this victory marked the start of a special winning streak. In the second match-day, Italy faced off against a robust Swiss side. Although the opposition was different, the result and the scoreline remained the same: the Azzuri beat Switzerland 3-0 as Manuel Locatelli burst onto the scene with an exhilarating brace. Having sealed qualification to the knock-out stages, Italy fielded a rotated team against Wales in MD-3 and managed to scrape together a 1-0 victory to finish at the top of Group A.
In the round of 16, the Azzuri were set to face Group C runners-up Austria. Scoreless after 90 minutes, Roberto Mancini’s tactical genius steered Italy through to the quarterfinals with second-half substitutes Federico Chiesa & Matteo Pessina netting to seal a 2-1 win in the extra time.
Going into the quarterfinals, Italy was surprisingly the favorite to go through to the next round against world #1 Belgium. The Azzuri lived up to this tag by outclassing the Red devils 2-1 to set up a mouth-watering semifinal clash against Spain.
Including qualifications, the victory against Belgium was Italy’s 15th consecutive win in Euro 2020 competition, setting a new record for the longest winning streak in the tournament, surpassing Germany’s previous feat of 14 wins in the 2010-2012 Euros campaign.
The first half of the semifinal between Italy and Spain saw tactics of the highest caliber, both teams out-pressed each other on multiple occasions. In the second half, Italy sat back and invited pressure from the Spaniards with the intent to counterattack. This didn’t work out very well as Alvaro Morata canceled out Federico Chiesa’s curler to drag the game to extra time. The trend was similar in the extra time with Spain piling the pressure on Italy but not quite breaking through as the game went into penalties. Dani Olmo’s skied penalty kick and Gianluigi Donnarumma’s heroics saw Italy win 4-2 on penalties to reach their 4th ever European Championship Final.
Road to the Final: England
The English contingent, unlike their Italian counterparts, didn’t get off to a flying start. In MD-1, England kicked off against Croatia at Wembley stadium. There was an added flavor to this game as it was a repeat of the World Cup 2018 semifinal where England was forced to eat the humble pie after a crushing 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Croats.
The result was different this time around though, as Gareth Southgate’s men nicked a cagey 1-0 win courtesy of Raheem Sterling’s clinical finish from a Kalvin Philips pass. On MD-2, the Scots came to town for a British derby. Although the game was a boring 0-0 draw, the atmosphere in the arena was one of the best the tournament had to offer so far, the English fans delivered sweet renditions of “Three Lions” and “ Sweet Caroline” while the Tartan Army blew the roof off of Wembley with the tunes of “I can boogie” and “We’ll be coming down the road”.
Having sealed qualification to the knock-out phase, Gareth Southgate experimented on his lineup in the final game of the group stages against the Czech Republic, including fan-favorite “Super” Jack Grealish in the starting 11. The Aston Villa man capped off his first-ever Euros start with an assist and played a major part in sealing England’s 1-0 win over Czechia.
After that slow start in the group stages, England well and truly hit the ground running in the knock-out stages. In R-16, the Three Lions outclassed Germany with a clinical performance to book a place in the quarters against Ukraine. There Gareth Southgate’s men went up a level and scored freely to secure a comfortable 4-0 win to advance to the semifinals.
The semifinal that followed was a nail-biter of a game for the Three Lions faithful. Baby-faced assassin Mikkel Damsgaard’s brilliant freekick gave (Harry Kane a haircut and) English fans flashbacks of the infamous 1996 Euros semifinal failure. But Arsenal prodigy Bukayo Saka latched on to an exceptional through ball from Harry Kane to whip in a dangerous cross in the corridor of uncertainty to induce an own goal from Simon Kjaer.
Tied 1-1 at halftime, England started the second half brightly, forcing Leicester star Kasper Schmeichel to make fantastic saves (9 on the day!). England’s penalty appeals in the later stages of the second half were controversially chalked off by VAR, and the game went into extra time, still 1-1.
In the 1st half of extra time, English fans breathed a sigh of relief as a contentious penalty decision finally went England’s way (Raheem Sterling appeared to simulate a foul in the Denmark penalty box). Schmeichel parried Kane’s initial penalty, but Harry slotted in the rebound to seal a 2-1 victory and set up a Wembley date with Italy in the second major international final that England has ever reached.
Fantasy round-up of my team
My fantasy troops went into the semifinals with 5 eliminated players and an injured Leonardo Spinazzola to address.
Wanting a balanced lineup for the semis, my transfers maintained an even spread across all four teams. Ideally, I wanted four each from Spain, Italy, and England plus three players from Denmark. But I couldn’t quite get that combination without taking point hits, so I settled for the slightly riskier combo of five English, three each from Spain and Italy, and 2 from Denmark plus an eliminated Robin Gosens and Maarten Stekelenburg burning on my bench.
Gambling on English assets paid off, so my team looks well set for the final. Following the trend of the knockout stages, it was the attackers that turned over the majority of my points, Alvaro Morata, Raheem Sterling, Dani Olmo, Mikkel Damsgaard, and captain Harry Kane contributing significantly to my 40 point haul.
Since bench players won’t be called upon in the final (assuming I’m tuned in to finalize my roster after confirmed lineups have been announced), strengthening my starting 11 will be my priority even if it means transferring out prolific players like Domenico Berardi who is unlikely to start.
The captaincy decision will be the toughest and perhaps the most important of the final (so NMA has an upcoming article dedicated just to that). Raheem Sterling is the front runner to take my armband. The Man City star has had a fantastic Euro 2020 so far, scoring three goals with a nonpenalty xG of 3.92, which is the highest among all players. Harry Kane is the safer option though as the Tottenham talisman has four goals with a non-penalty xG of 3.57 and has the added advantage of being the PK taker.
As it stands, my current world rank is #53947 and my NMA league rank is #229. A world top 50K finish and a top 200 finish in the NMA league is something I’ll be happy with. Let’s see what the fantasy gods have in store for me!
My proposed transfers for the final are:
- Alvaro Morata (FWD, €9.2M, Eliminated)
- Mikkel Damsgaard (MID, €6.5M, Eliminated)
- Domenico Berardi (MID,€6.3M, England vs Italy)
- Dani Olmo (MID, €7.4M, Eliminated)
- Jordi Alba (DEF, €6.4M, Eliminated)
- Marcus Rashford (FWD, €9.5M, England vs Italy) – (Bench)
- Bukayo Saka (MID,€6.6M, England vs Italy)
- Federico Chiesa (MID,€7.4M, England vs Italy)
- Mason Mount (MID, €7.3M, England vs Italy )
- Giovanni Di Lorenzo (DEF,€5.2M, England vs Italy)
Which would give me this:
How has your fantasy journey been so far? What are your current points and ranks? What ranks are you gunning for? What transfers have you planned? Is the trophy “coming home” or “going Rome”?
Who’s winning Euro 2020?
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