We have our two finallists, but which country will be the happier on Sunday night? England have been steady throughout the tournament, always getting the job done without playing a specific brand of football, whilst Italy have been up and down, but have ultimately reached one of the highest-profile games in international football through the quality they have throughout their squad. As a result, this is going to be a really interesting final, with plenty to look forward to.
I have been impressed overall with Italy in this tournament. I thought they played some really good football during the group stages, did well to beat Belgium in the quarter-finals, and held out against a relatively unpredictable Spain in their semi-final match.
Their Round of 16 match against Austria was their only blot, if you like, because I thought they looked unsure of themselves in that game, struggling to complete with an Austrian side who clearly felt they had a chance of progressing by sitting back and frustrating their opponents.
However, overall, it has been a very good set of performances, especially since Italy are still recovering from the disappointment of the last few years. There is no question they are back to being a European footballing giant again, and will be even more so if they end up winning Sunday’s final.
I have been impressed by England in this tournament. They have not made any big statement wins (Germany aside), but have simply gone about their business in a quiet, understated manner, led by the ever-calm Gareth Southgate.
They started with a good win against Croatia, avenging their semi-final defeat in Russia in 2018, but then seemed to stumble over the line, with unconvincing performances against Scotland and the Czech Republic. However, once they got to the knockout rounds, they have not looked back, and their semi-final win against Denmark showed their belief that they can go all the way. I thought they played really well against the Danes, and, whether it was a penalty or not, they deserved to be in front at that stage.
The most impressive thing for me has been their ability to change systems and tactics between and during games, almost without thinking about it. That comes from excellent preparation before the tournament began, putting together a good mix of players who can fill different roles. This ability to adapt puts them in a good position to end their wait for a major tournament title on Sunday evening, and it will be even better because the game is at Wembley.
Italy have many key players in their team, but one who has really stood out for me is Lorenzo Insigne. The Napoli forward has played on the left of a front three, but has frequently cut inside and caused problems for opposing defences. He is a dangerous player to give any kind of space to, so England will need to ensure they mark him tightly and limit his influence on the match.
The other player I have noticed a lot is Niccolo Barella. Playing in the midfield, he has had a box-to-box role for Italy, helping to link up their defence and attack when they look to play through the thirds. In their opening group game against Turkey, I thought he was Italy’s best player, doing a lot of the hard work that allowed the forwards to score the goals. He is another key player that England will need to be wary of, and he could give England’s midfielders a difficult time on Sunday.
For England, there is no question that Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling has been their best player. He plays on the left wing, or as a left-sided forward in a front three, but tends to drift around the pitch, always appearing where he is needed. His pace has caused England’s opponents so many problems, and Italy will need to prevent him getting behind their back line on Sunday, otherwise he will get plenty of balls into the box for the central players to score from.
Another who has caught my eye is Harry Maguire. The Manchester United captain has not had an easy time at Old Trafford since leaving Leicester City, but I think he has been a leader at the back for England, marshalling the defence well when they are under pressure. England hadn’t conceded a goal until the semi-final, partly because of Jordan Pickford’s form, but also because the defence has looked in control; Maguire has used his leadership abilities to help keep the door shut.
I never expected them to keep Denmark out completely, because there were too many weapons in the Danish attack for that to happen, but I did think they did well to keep it at just one goal let in, giving them the best possible chance of winning the game from their attacks.
I think it will be a tight game, with neither side winning by more than a goal. However, it comes down to who has a better, more-balanced setup, and I think England have that. When it comes to attacking, they have pace on the wings and an in-form striker in Harry Kane, who will pounce on anything that comes his way. Behind him, Mason Mount floats around and gets in pockets of space, linking up play and giving his teammates a passing option around the pitch. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips have been the defensive protection required to prevent opponents getting many chances against England, and the defence, as we have mentioned, has been fairly unbreachable.
Italy have done well in this tournament, but their form is still a little unconvincing. I still think about their performance in the Austria game, and wonder if England will be able to use that to frustrate their opponents. We mentioned how England have different options in their squad, and I feel it is this tactical ability that will help them to get over the line.