Time to shift our attention from South America to Europe.
After watching the great Lionel Messi show at the iconic Maracana Stadium earlier today, it's time to see who reigns supreme in the European Championship.
Sunday’s Euro 2020 final pits England, who haven’t even reached a final since winning the 1966 World Cup, against one of the continent’s most decorated teams. The last of Italy's four World Cup victories came in 2006, when Chiellini had already made his international debut but didn't play at the tournament. But the team is a comparative underachiever in the Euros with their only title in 1968. Italy, however, have already reached the final twice in recent years in 2000 and 2012 while England haven't got close until now.
England coach Gareth Southgate knows playing at the Wembley Stadium is a definite advantage, and will hope the Three Lions win their first European Championship title. “Everything is important, how we've represented people and we're pleased that legacy has been there but now we want to go and bring the trophy home for everybody,” he said.
The road to the final
Under Roberto Mancini, Italy have been tactically superior and played better football up front, winning all their matches in the tournament so far. And overall, they've remained unbeaten in 33 games. In the group stage, Mancini's men convincingly won against Turkey, Switzerland and Wales. In the round of 16, they suffered a minor scare against Austria, but eventually made it to the quarters courtesy extra-time goals from Federico Chiesa and Matteo Pessina. Then, on their way to the final, the Azzurri knocked out two big sides -- Belgium and Spain -- in the quarters and semifinals, respectively.
England didn't quite start off the tournament on an emphatic note, although they maintained clean sheets in the group stages, as well as in the round of 16 clash versus Germany. Raheem Sterling scored for the Three Lions in a 1-0 win versus Croatia and again versus Czech Republic. The only thorn in their flesh was the game against old foes Scotland, against whom they were held to a goalless draw. Harry Kane found his scoring boots in the knockout clash versus Joachim Low’s men, and then maintained his goal-scoring streak through the quarters versus Ukraine (4-0) and the semi-final versus Denmark (2-1).
Players to watch out for:
Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have a fine tuning with each other up front, both finding the back of the net for England during critical phases. Gareth Southgate will expect them to up their game in this rare opportunity. The Azzurri will have their eyes on Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne, while Leonardo Spinazzola will be sorely missed.
The belief in both camps
Winning Euro 2020 would be a form of redemption for Southgate, whose penalty miss against Germany at Euro '96 denied England a chance of making the final. “I know it won't be enough for me and for the rest of the staff and for the players if we don't win it now,” Southgate said. “You get lovely messages that say 'whatever happens now,' but that won't be how it will be on Monday. We've got to get it right,” he said.
Italy didn't even qualify for the 2018 World Cup but have excelled under Mancini. “At the beginning, when he told us to have in our minds the idea of winning the Euro, we thought he was crazy,” Chiellini said. “Instead, during these years he has created a team which is now on the brink of doing that. And as he has repeated to us after every match, One centimeter at a time,' and now there is only the last centimeter left.”
Head to head: Both the teams have met overall 27 times. England have won eight and the Azzurri 11 times. Eight matches have ended in a draw.
Surprise packages in the tournament
Chiesa, who wasn’t even starting for Italy initially at Euro 2020 but went on to score key goals in the knockout phase. Sterling, whose place in the Three Lions lineup was questioned because of his failure to score at any previous tournament and his struggles with Manchester City. He responded by netting the team’s only goals in the group stage, the opener in the win over Germany in the round of 16, and his attacking threat won the penalty that led to England’s semifinal winner against Denmark.
“What he's done for us and the unselfish part of his game goes unspoken about, said John Stones, Sterling's teammate with both England and City. “But as players we see it. He's been a great threat going forward with how direct he's been in the games and it has been great playing with him,” he said.