England fans are looking forward to a first major tournament final in 55 years as their team prepares to face Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday.
Three years on from their defeat by Croatia in the World Cup semi-final, Gareth Southgate’s men overcame Denmark 2-1 in extra time at a rocking Wembley on Wednesday to reach their first European Championship final.
Italy were also pushed beyond 90 minutes by Spain in their semi-final on Tuesday, but won on penalties to keep their bid for a first Euro title since 1968 alive.
England stand just one game away from ending their long and painful trophy drought, which dates all the way back to the 1966 World Cup.
England have suffered semi-final heartbreak at major tournaments four times since 1966 and those agonising defeats have been etched in the psyche of English football.
But Southgate has overseen the emergence of a vibrant young team unconcerned by the failings of their predecessors.
Italy are on a 33-match unbeaten run, reviving their reputation on the global stage after an embarrassing failure to even reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
For Italy, Sunday’s match will be the culmination of a remarkable turnaround in the team’s fortunes since Roberto Mancini took over as coach following the doomed qualifying campaign for the World Cup.
Mancini was appointed Italy coach in 2018, charged with the task of reviving the fortunes of a side that had failed to qualify for that year’s World Cup.
He has succeeded in some style, with Italy currently on a national record unbeaten run that stretched to 33 games with Tuesday’s penalty shoot-out win over Spain in the semi-finals.
Midfielder Marco Verratti said the Azzurri were “climbing back to where they belong” ahead of Sunday’s final, also at England’s home ground after the pan-European tournament.
It will be their Euro third final since 1968 having lost to France in 2000, when Zoff was the coach, and to Spain in 2012.
One thing that both Italy and England have in common are historically poor records in penalty shoot-outs.
But England have won their last two, while Italy, who knocked England out of Euro 2012 on spot-kicks, edged past Spain, with Gianluigi Donnarumma making the decisive save from Alvaro Morata.
Who’s saying what?
Gareth Southgate, England manager
“We’ve got to enjoy the fact we’re in the final but there’s one more massive hurdle to conquer. Italy are a very good side. I’ve thought that the last couple of years. They are in outstanding form and have defensive warriors who have been through everything. It’s a great game to look forward to. Finals are there to be won.”
John Stones, England defender
“It’s huge, with the final being at Wembley as well it’s even more special, something we could have only dreamt of at the start of the tournament. We’ve got this far now and we’ve grown throughout the tournament and not put too much pressure on ourselves. We’ve overcome some tough tests over the last few years. We’ve learned a lot of things and gained a lot of experience and that’s got us to where we are on Sunday. It’s a massive occasion.”
Marco Verratti, Italy midfielder
“We want to win. We will face a very, very tough team who want to win. It’s a dream for us to win this European Championship. There is a lot of enthusiasm around Italy. We weren’t given credit abroad but I think Italy are climbing back to where they belong. These matches are in a way easy to prepare for because you know everyone is going to give it his very best, whether you start or come off the bench. You know moments such as this one might not come up again. I hope that’s not the case clearly. These matches are there to be won, and we must win.”
Leonardo Bonucci, Italy defender
“Playing at their home does not scare us. We’re only thinking about playing football and having fun. The rest is just chatter. On the pitch there will be the best show for European and world football from Italy, England and the referees. We are looking forward to taking to the field even though most of the fans present will be English. We want to do something historic, have a great performance and then we’ll see how it ends. They have very strong forward, we will need to be very careful of them, the defence and the whole team. We know the difficulties they can give us and we will have to be careful about their speed.”
England vs Italy H2H
Stats and Trivia
• The final of Euro 2020 at Wembley brings together Italy, seeking to add to their sole European title after 53 years, and England, who are aiming to be crowned European champions for the first time
• Only three teams have ever won the European Championship on home soil: Spain (1964), Italy (1968) and France (1984). Portugal (2004) and France (2016) both reached the final only to lose.
• Italy’s record in UEFA European Championship finals is W1 L2:
1968 W 2-0 v Yugoslavia (Rome)
2000 L 1-2 v France, aet golden goal (Rotterdam)
2012 L 0-4 v Spain (Kyiv)
• The Azzurri are now level with Spain and the Soviet Union on four final appearances; only Germany (six) have featured in more.
• This is only England’s second major tournament final, the other also coming on home soil – a 4-2 extra-time win against West Germany in the 1966 FIFA World Cup final at Wembley. England are the 13th country to reach a Euro final, and the first newcomers since Greece and Portugal in 2004. Yugoslavia (1960, 1968) and Belgium (1980) are the only two countries to have appeared in a final but never been crowned European champions.
• England are without a competitive win against Italy in six fixtures (D2 L4), since a 2-0 success at Wembley in the 1978 World Cup qualifying campaign. That is their only victory in their eight competitive fixtures against the Azzurri, who went on to reach those 1978 finals at England’s expense having won the earlier qualifier in Rome by the same scoreline.
• Italy would become the fourth multiple EURO winners with victory at Wembley, joining Germany and Spain (three titles) and France (two). The current longest gap between Euro titles is the 44 years between Spain’s triumphs in 1964 and 2008.
• England have never lost in the finals of a major tournament at Wembley (W11 D4), with their 1996 semi-final against Germany classed as a draw. Their four wins and a draw at Euro 2020 mean England’s record at Wembley is now W187 D73 L39. They have won 13 of their last 15 matches at the stadium.
• Chelsea trio Ben Chilwell, Reece James, Mason Mount and the Italian duo of Jorginho and Emerson could join those nine players who have appeared in European Cup and Euro final victories in the same season.
With AFP and Uefa inputs