England against Italy, at Wembley, in the final of the Euros. Many had hoped for this final billing but certainly did not expect its reality. As the England men head towards their first final in 55 years, let’s take a look at their chances and their Italian rivals.
Italy have been the designated favourites well before the first ball was kicked in the competition, and now with a 33-match unbeaten run, they are formidable opponents full of confidence. They are creative, lethal on the counter-attack and have the staunch titans of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci snuffing out challenges that wish to break their defensive line. These two full-backs especially will make the lives of Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling incredibly difficult. Indeed, behind Chiellini and Bonucci is the Italian keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma who has a commanding presence in goal. Donnarumma enjoys playing out from the back, and on occasion in the tournament, this strategy has put him under pressure. This could be an area that Sterling’s pace could exploit and errors could be forced. In the England v Denmark semi-final on 7 July, Harry Kane dropped slightly deeper than his position in earlier matches — adopting the role he has more recently cultivated in a Tottenham shirt. The deeper position allowed Kane to effectively thread balls through into the likes of Sterling and Saka, with their quality making the players much more difficult to defend against. Coupled with the high calibre partnership between Shaw and Sterling, England’s attacking threat will test the well-established Italian defence.
IT IS THE STRENGTH AND DEPTH OF THE ENGLISH BENCH THAT PROVIDES ANOTHER DIMENSION TO their GAME
The midfield, naturally, will be a highly contested area during the match. The Italian midfield is young, adventurous and the source of much of the team’s attacking potency. Jorginho (seen in the Premier League for Chelsea) is the central pivot in the Italian midfield, orchestrating threats forward and keeping the squad organised. He will have to be watched and marked carefully during the match. The semi-final between Italy and Spain on 6 July proved that if the Italian midfield could be neutralised, Italy’s dominance in the game would also neutralised. Spain’s high press was effective, but their successful disruption came at the cost of very few players in the box, creating little opportunity for efforts to be converted into goals. England will not play with Spain’s costly strategy, but confidence can be built from Italy not being entirely infallible. The England midfield must balance itself between remaining positive and composed going forward whilst not leaving the defence exposed and isolated against the Italian wingers. Southgate proved in the game against Denmark that he was willing to double sub players to defensively balance the game so must continue to be bold and brave in his decisions during the final.
England’s defence has been stable and collected during the campaign, having kept clean sheets for the entire competition before the Denmark game. Kyle Walker has thoroughly impressed, being reliable defensively as well as moving the ball forwards. The established partnership, fostered at Man City, between Walker and Stones, alongside Shaw and Maguire, will be invaluable against the danger of Italian forwards such as Immobile. Immobile will be difficult to handle, and the England defence must not get drawn into Immobile’s agenda. When the England defence becomes unsettled, it ripples throughout the squad and is a core area that the Italian players could target and reap big rewards from.
It is the strength and depth of the English bench that provides another dimension to their game. Southgate has boundless options for different situations: Sancho and Grealish for creativity and energy; Henderson and Trippier for experience and composure; Phil Foden, Rashford, Bellingham… the list continues. Italy has solid options of Domenico Berardi and Matteo Pessina from the bench, but it must be said that England do have the advantage off the bench. Both national teams played to extra time in their semi-finals, so the bench, and which manager can most efficiently use it, will certainly be valuable.
Italy are still the favourites coming into the final, but with a wave of broken records and the roaring Wembley crowd behind them, Southgate’s England will be powerful contenders. There are no doubts that the final will be a dynamic, spectacular and tough game remembered for decades to come.
The final will be available to watch on BBC1 from 6:20pm and on ITV1 from 6:30pm.