Homeward bound? On Sunday, England contest their first major final in 55 years – at Wembley Stadium, the same locale where the Three Lions claimed their famous World Cup win back in the swingin’ summer of ‘66.
Will Sunday’s match end up being similarly venerated over the next half century? Let’s face it, if Sam Matterface is on commentary duty we’re unlikely to get a quote as memorable or spontaneous as Kenneth Wolstenholme’s trademark line.
If England can beat an excellent Italian side in London this weekend, the event being saddled with second-rate commentary is probably a minor quibble. The odds compilers make Gareth Southgate’s side the favourites to triumph, with England 13/8 to win in the 90 minutes, Italy 2/1 shots, and the draw available at 41/20.
So… who wins? With the match taking place at Wembley, it’s easy to see why a nation of frenzied fans are giddily convinced football’s homecoming is about to happen. It’s also easy to see why those self-same fans are simultaneously freaking out at the prospect of things going horribly, gut-wrenchingly wrong.
Making it to a final? That’s almost as good as it gets – and just not good enough. Because losing a final? Lord, why hast thou forsaken us?
And it’s not going to be easy; Roberto Mancini’s Italy are formidable opponents. They’ve won this competition before too, triumphing in 1968 – though their most recent major trophy came in 2006, when they won their fourth(!) World Cup.
They’ve also been finalists in the Euros in 2000 and 2012, and to reach this final they’ve seen off world no.1 Belgium, and got the better of a Spain side that dominated possession but couldn’t make it count in their semi-final on Tuesday.
The Italians haven’t lost one of their last 33 matches, and boast several fine players. Jorginho is being talked of as a Ballon d’Or candidate, while the defensive pairing of Bonucci and Chiellini may be getting on in years – but on the evidence so far, still provide a formidable partnership.
Federico Chiesa has scored twice in his last three appearances for the Azzurri, and the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile are dangerous too. We don’t even feel confident mocking Immobile for his play-acting, given Raheem Sterling’s own Meryl Streep moment against Denmark on Wednesday.
Past experience suggests this one could be tight, with finals in major tournaments often underwhelming in terms of entertainment. Three of the last four Euro finals have ended 1-0 – the exception being the 2012 final, when Spain beat Italy 4-0 in Austria.
It would be optimistic to expect England to win by a similar scoreline here, even discounting the fact that the last time Italy conceded more than a single goal in a game was in June 2018 – in a friendly against France, shortly before they won the World Cup.
Could extra time and even penalties be required to decide this one then? Put it this way, the thought of a jovial Giorgio Chiellini hugging, capering, slapping the back of an ashen-faced Harry Kane as the ref flips a coin to decide who takes the first kick is a moment that will haunt me forever (assuming it happens at all).
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