Having got through their semi-final against Spain, where their backs were pressed firmly against the wall for long periods, Italy may well feel that their name is on the trophy. They have been one of the best teams at Euro 2020, and one of the most attractive sides to watch, but Spain completely stifled them at Wembley, and Italy were forced to go back to basics and defend for their lives.
They held Spain off and won on penalties, and their reward is a place in the final against England, who saw off Denmark after extra time. England have been another in-form team at this summer’s Euros, with defensive solidity defining their progress through the tournament. But while they will be another stern test for Roberto Mancini’s Italy, with the Italy v England betting too close to call, the Azzurri will be fully confident that they have the wherewithal to get the job done and lift the trophy.
You only have to look at Italy’s group-stage form to see what they are capable of. Their first two matches each yielded 3-0 victories, against Turkey and Switzerland respectively, while they showed similar superiority against Wales despite naming a much-changed starting eleven. They produced scintillating football throughout, and Mancini has brought a newfound attacking verve to a national team who so often struggled in that department.
There are no real standout individuals in this Italy team. Instead, they are a sum greater than their parts, with everyone working together to produce the fluent football we have seen. And there is no shortage of heart and determination in this team, encapsulated by veteran centre-back Giorgio Chiellini. Partnered by the similarly venerable Leonardo Bonucci, Chiellini is still a monster at the back for the Italians, bullying strikers and setting the emotional tone for his team. It’s clear that he is enjoying every single moment of this Euro 2020 odyssey, and he’ll have his sights set on lifting that trophy on Sunday night.
Defensively, they are just as formidable as the great Italy teams of old. Harry Kane will go into the final one goal behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick in the Euro 2020 top scorers chart, but he’ll have his work cut out to win the battle against Chiellini and Bonucci. The two centre-halves were immense in the quarter-final win against Belgium, keeping star striker Romelu Lukaku quiet for most of the match. Kane will need to be on top form if he wants to bag that fifth goal of the tournament.
If there is one attacking player for Italy who has the ability to change the game on his own, it’s Federico Chiesa. The Juventus man is a player for the big occasion, and seems to flourish when the pressure is at its most intense. His goal against Spain in the semi-final was a thing of beauty, cutting inside and curling a sensational strike beyond the dive of Unai Simon. England will need to be on their guard against Chiesa’s speed and trickery, and the hope for Italy will be that England’s attention to Chiesa will leave more room for the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile.
The most impressive thing about this Italy team is that they seem to be fully in charge of their destiny. They are as happy playing free-flowing attacking football as they are hunkering down and defending for their lives — as they did at times against Spain. There is no obvious weakness, no chink in their armour, and they will not fear England or the home crowd. Instead, you can bet that every single Italian player will be relishing the challenge.