By Andrew Warshaw
July 9 – The tension is mounting almost hourly and collective nerves are jangling. Will football finally come home to England on Sunday night or will Italy spoil the Euro 2020 party?
In one corner, crucial home advantage and the most exciting group of young players for years in a nation that lays claim to being the inventor of football but is one of the sport’s great underachievers.
In the other, a team that hasn’t lost for a jaw-dropping 33 games stretching back to September, 2018.
Past history will favour the Italians at Wembley. Altogether the pair have met 27 times but in four clashes at either a World Cup or a European Championship, the Azzurri have won all of them.
England, in fact, have beaten Italy only once in the last seven meetings, including friendlies.
“We know the size of the task,” England coach Gareth Southgate admitted. “It’s the biggest possible test we can have.”
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) says up to 1,000 supporters have been allowed to travel to London under strict conditions, including a five-day quarantine on their return. They will be hugely outnumbered and drowned out by the majority of the 60,000 fans roaring England on.
Such support is bound to make a huge difference but there are few footballing nations as resilient and combative as the Italians. England may not have won any major trophy since the 1966 World Cup but Italy haven’t won the Euros for over half a century. The motivation for both sides could not be greater in what, on paper, is a 50-50 game.
“The players believed right from day one that we could create something incredible,” said Italy coach Roberto Mancini. “We haven’t done everything we need to. There’s still one step to go.”
All the more remarkable is that Italy have reached the final having failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Never in their long history, despite Italy’s pedigree, have England had a better chance to erase all the hurt and generations of doomed expectations stretching through 26 World Cups and European Championship tournaments, seven of which they didn’t even qualify for.
“Italy have been a top team for the last couple of years,” added Southgate, the most successful England coach since 1966 World Cup winner Alf Ramsey, having taking England to back-to-back semifinals and now to a final.
“We have followed their progress closely. We know the way they play — with great energy, with great style — they are always difficult to score against.”
While less illustrious national teams like Denmark and Greece have won the Euros, England have always fallen short. But there is a sense that this time, having made their first final for 55 years, it might just happen.
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