Wembley will be on fire on Sunday during the final of Euro 2020 Championship as Italy and England square up against each other seeking to take possession, for the next four years, of the much-coveted continental glory. While Italy goes into the match unbeaten for the last 33 games, England goes in with the credential of having conceded only one goal throughout the tournament till now. To say the least, this is one match so unpredictable!
Sports lovers and analysts are divided on where the trophy is headed. This is one of the beauties of the game – the excitement of fans. This was part of what covid-19 stole from sports and we had empty stadia. Now, that we are gradually shading the new normal and embracing the hybrid normal (mixture of old and new), we are beginning to see the fanfare among excited fans.
Let us look at the strengths of both teams in all departments.
Forget about the Damsgaard free kick at the semi-final, it could have beaten six keepers lined up on the goal mouth. It was an explosive thunderbolt; a 25-meters ferocious yarder. It will, most definitely, contend for the goal of the tournament. Jordan Pickford has shown how good he has been coming from the successes of last season with Everton, conceding just once after 480 minutes of match time during this tournament. He has calculated calmness and composure to his advantage.
Italy has always been blest with high profile, long-lasting good keepers. Gianluca Pagluica, Gianluigi Buffon… and now, Gianluigi Donnarumma who has been a colossus of sorts in this competition, using his heights to maximal advantage. He has conceded thrice during this tournament but his heroics at the shootout against Spain made sure the Azzurri. He is a good positioner making opposing strikers’ attempts worth less the efforts.
It will be a battle between two defence-minded teams. With fiery, experienced captain, Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci striking a water-tight defensive chord, Kane and Sterling will find them a handful.
At the opposing end, Harry Maguire and John Stones have formed an impregnable Rock of Gibraltar. Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne will find in the English defense, a different ball game from the spaces the Spanish defence allowed them. The English defence does not panic. It does not give away balls so loosely. It is sure it will make less mistakes.
The battle will be lost and won in the midfield. Sure. England has top strikers but Italian midfielders are free scorers. With England opting for two central midfielders (most times, Kalvin Philips and Declan Rice) and one creative midfielder, Mason Mount, the engine room of the Three Lions is purely in the midfield. As the defensive midfielders neutralize attacks, they immediately build up play upfront with Mount leading the onslaught.
The Italians play a flat three in midfield comprising Nicolo Barella, Jorginho and Marco Verratti. They ensure the opponents do not have direct access to the back four while supporting attack when the team is piling the pressure. They are free scorers too with Jorginho as the commanding maestro.
Jorginho and Mount know each other at their finger tips been teammates at Chelsea. They will try to cancel themselves out on the day.
The Three Lions would count on impact player, Jack Grealish, to change the tides of the game towards the last quarter.
Insigne and Chiesa have formed a synergy as support strikers to tee up Immobile or pile the drives and pull the strings at goal when spaces get clearer form the distance. Immobile is the destroyer-in-chief and defenders will do well not to lose sight of his deceptive runs. This trio make incessant cross-current runs at will and these interspersing switches are electric.
The English forward is more robust with influential captain Harry Kane leading the pack. This forward will build on the supplies of incisive passes from Mason Mount, the evasive slippery of Raheem Sterling, the speedy dribbling runs of either Jadon Sancho or Bukayo Saka, and the positional, killer instinct of Kane.
Di Lorenzo will have to look out for Sterling as a goal from him may seal the match for England. The Three Lions have never lost whenever he scored.
From the above department-by-department analysis, we can infer the following:
- Football is a deceptive game. It can teach you some hard lessons when you least expect it.
- England may disappoint when you need them to come to the party.
- Italy has never been to any major tournament for long and came to the tournament blazing. Any discerning fan would be wary of this team.
- Should the match go to penalty shoot-outs, Donnarumma may have an edge. He would revel on the confidence of his heroics against Spain. Again, the Italians might be more clinical than the English in taking the spot-kicks.
- Italy has a compact team that plays for each other but talk of team spirit, Denmark has the highest and England penetrated and thwarted that oneness.
- England seems to allow some perfection per department. Except for Luke Shaw who does the escapist runs down the left flank. Kyle Walker is a bit laid back. Football enthusiast, Ikechukwu Ivonye, says that “Walker is the defensive speed and is kept there to protect the defence especially Stone on quick players. He will do that against Insigne.”
Finally, split-second reactions will be key on the night. Luck will play a very big factor in the defence area as the cup may go with the team with less mistakes.
The brilliance of the coaches will be another match-winning index. The ability of the coaches to know who, how, when and where during the game will surely go a long way.
Will Mancini continue decorating his football shelf or will Southgate continue on his meteoric rise to football prominence by creating history for himself and for England? A maximum of two explosive hours has the real answers.
The football world is anxiously waiting!
Azuka Edokobi is a Writer and Entrepreneur