Is football coming home? Well, it is now only potentially 90 minutes away from doing so. England face Italy at Wembley on Sunday in the final of this summer’s European Championship and the match has all the ingredients of a classic.
The Three Lions beat Denmark 2-1 in the semi-final thanks to an extra-time winner by Harry Kane, and are on the brink of a first European crown and a first major honour since the 1966 World Cup.
Italy, who won this prize in 1968 and have won the World Cup four times, edged out Spain in a penalty shoot-out and are unbeaten in 33 matches going into the final.
After a glorious summer of football, the European Championship finally comes to a conclusion this Sunday as Roberto Mancini´s wonderful Italy takes on an increasingly strong looking England at the so-called “home of football”, Wembley Stadium.
Indeed, with 50 games played and 140 goals scored, this has been one of the most exciting and enjoyable European Championships in recent memory, setting a record for the highest average of goals per game at 2.8.
Certainly, while plenty of teams have entertained over the past 3 and a half weeks, few would argue that the two best sides have reached the final, with both Italy and England impressing in their unbeaten runs to this showcase showdown.
But is football really “coming home”?
While the merits of that particular English lexicon have been debated endlessly in recent days, there is no denying that Gareth Southgate´s side does seem to have a strong wave of momentum behind their bid to lift a first major trophy since 1966 in this their first-ever European Championship final.
Still, this is a hardy Italian side, currently in the midst of their longest ever unbeaten run of matches, and they surely represent the biggest test of an English side in many a year, if not since all the way back in their golden era of the 60s.
With so much spirit and determination behind their bid for a first major trophy since the 2006 World Cup, a hugely competitive contest has to be expected and given the history between these nations, the English should perhaps reign in their talk of football coming home just yet.
Form Guide: Italy
Italy began the tournament like an unstoppable juggernaut, thrashing both Turkey and Switzerland 3-0 – particularly impressive feats given the Azzurri had never before in their history scored more than two goals in a single match at a European Championship.
A routine 1-0 victory over Wales saw them claim maximum points from the group stage, and at that point it was difficult not envisaging the Italians cruising their way to Euro glory without conceding so much as a shot, let alone a goal.
Their round of 16 fixture against Austria was not exactly plain sailing, however, needing extra time to see off Franco Foda’s side, but they put their foot back on the gas against Belgium in the quarter-final, producing a sublime first-half performance before giving Roberto Martinez’s men a lesson in how to see out a football match. Italy have been involved in arguably the two best games of the tournament, their quarter-final against Belgium, and then the semi-final against Spain.
Spain took the game to Italy and pretty much overawed them playing in the style that, up to that point, Roberto Mancini’s men had been accustomed to playing; pressing high and with extreme intensity. It was all the more impressive then that Italy retreated into a traditional Italian shape and defended the Spaniards, nicking a goal on the break before Alvaro Morata leveled to take the game into extra-time.
Italy won on penalties, but the fact that the Azzurri are completely comfortable with two extremely different styles of play will make them incredibly difficult to beat.
Form Guide: England
Saying that, however, there probably hasn’t been a team at this tournament, or perhaps at any major international tournament, that have adapted quite like England have.
Gareth Southgate’s side have been the chameleons of Euro 2020, changing their outer layer on a game-by-game basis in order to exploit their opposition.
Two victories and a draw in the group stage saw them book a last 16 tie against their old arch enemy Germany, and it was through matching up the Germans’ formation that England were able to emerge victorious.
A comfortable 4-0 hammering of Ukraine in the quarter-final, a game in which Southgate opted for a more offensive approach, put England into a third semi-final in three years, where they overcame Denmark thanks to an extra-time goal from Harry Kane – a penalty he definitely meant to miss and put in on the rebound, so tired is he of everyone’s talk about the majority of his goals in the 2018 World Cup coming from the spot.
How the match could go
Italy haven’t had it easy in the knockout stages, twice taking it past 90 minutes, and England were treated to the same as well in their last match. The difficulty will go a notch higher for both nations here and with the momentums they carry to this game, picking an outright winner is extremely difficult. A tight game is expected, and it will surely be tense, with both teams having showed great confidence in the run up to the final. Individual brilliance could be the order of the day in a game where both teams will aim to be as careful as possible.
Betting Tips and Predictions
Italy to win
Looking at the odds, it’s clear that the smartest bet when determining risk is to back Italy. These teams are just as good as each other and you could flip a coin to work out who wins the Euro 2020 final. What’s more, Italy have a rich history in making Euro and World Cup finals, while this is England’s first since 1966. The Azzurri’s price is too good to ignore here. Both Italy and England have deserved their spot to enter Wembley to fight for gold, and it would be hard to make a case for any other team being good enough to be in their spot. While there are factors speaking for an English triumph, we also have to highlight the fantastic streak of 33 matches without a loss Italy is currently on. And if we look at the battle between brains – Mancini against Southgate, then we have to say the former feels an inch ahead. Mancini’s years from being the head coach of Manchester City can also play a role here, as he is very knowledgeable about the English football.
We have chosen to go with Italy as the winner of EURO 2020. If that happens after 90 minutes, extra time, or penalties remains to be seen, but we see value in this bet. The final will very likely be a very even battle where small margins will decide who becomes the champion. Bet365 have 2.62 odds, Bet9ja have 2.70 and 1xbet have 2.76.
Both teams to score – Yes
One of the most impressive aspects of England’s win over Denmark was their attitude. They went for the game from kick-off despite the pressure of the occasion and the 60,000-strong crowd in attendance. The Three Lions kept taking chances and pushing forward, so don’t suddenly expect them to go defensive now. England have scored eight times across their three knockout matches, but they did concede for the first time in the last round. Italy have been a consistent goal scoring threat at this tournament so we expect Pickford to be beaten once again. Bet9ja have 2.08, Bet365 have 2.10 and 1xbeet have 2.12.
Italy’s last two matches at this tournament have seen both teams score, while before that they beat Austria 2-1 in extra time at Wembley. England have improved going forward since the group stage but the step up in class of the opposition leaves them more vulnerable defensively. Having seen both teams score in each of the two semi-finals, more goals is our first prediction.
Anytime Goal-scorer (Italy)
Following on from the club calendar, the 30-year-old has been a key component of the current Italy team who are vying to win the Euro 2020 final against England on Sunday. Two goals in five appearances at the tournament is an impressive return for the wide forward. One of those was a stunning strike in Roberto Mancini’s sides 2-1 win over Belgium. The 46-cap international has lots of experience on his hands and he could come as one of the men to trouble the English defence today. Bet365 have 4.33 odds for him to score while Bet9ja have 5.10.
Helping the Azzurri attack is the addition of Federico Chiesa to the starting 11. Chiesa, one of the brightest young attacking talents in the world, has given Italy a different, more direct dynamic from the wing — and one they have needed since Leonardo Spinazzola suffered a tournament-ending injury. He has proven to be a threat on the ball and could be one to watch out for. Bet365 have 5.00 while Bet9ja have 5.60
Anytime Goal-scorer (England)
Harry Kane is hitting form at the right time for England, with four goals in his past three matches including the winner against Denmark on Wednesday. Italy will fear the movement and finishing ability of the man who still hopes to add the Golden Boot for this tournament to the one he won at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Kane is one goal behind Patrik Schick of the Czech Republic, who in turn is one assist behind Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal, who has five goals and an assist. Kane has no assists but a brace of goals in the final would give him the prize. He faces a real battle against the Italian centre-backs Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, but if England can supply him with a chance, Kane is in the form to take it. Bet365 have 2.60 odds for him to score while Bet9ja have 3.00.
Weird pick but there’s a valid explanation. Central defender Harry Maguire showed what a threat he is at set pieces again on Wednesday with two efforts on target from set pieces. England missed his ability in the air in the group matches and against Ukraine in the quarter-final the big centre-back netted his side’s second goal in a 4-0 win. The Italy defence will be stronger than any England have faced at the finals, but we’re still backing Maguire to show his prowess and have one effort on target and who knows if it could be a goal. Bet9ja have a whopping 15.00 odds for him to score while Bet365 have it even better at 17.00.
Football Lover. All-round junkie of the beautiful game. Could be found watching football most of the time. If not he’s writing about them or making some punditry you don’t agree with. A certain bias for Arsenal and Santos FC.