Roberto Mancini believes he and Gianluca Vialli came 'full circle' at Wembley Stadium, making amends for Sampdoria's European Cup final defeat against Barcelona by succeeding with Italy against England in the Euro 2020 final.

Mancini guided his country to their first European Championship triumph since 1968 with a shoot-out victory over Gareth Southgate's men, courtesy of Gianluigi Donnarumma's penalty-saving heroics.

Tasked with rebuilding after failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018, Mancini led his side to a 34-game unbeaten run that culminated in the Euro 2020 success.

After the failure of 2018, the first year in which the Azzurri had failed to reach a World Cup since 1958, Mancini told SPORT1 "Italy was down".

"You [Italy] immediately felt that everyone wanted reparations and were ready to work their a***s for the country", the former Manchester City head coach added.

But Italy's title did not just represent success for this current crop of players, it also provided comfort for Mancini and the Azzurri's team delegation chief Vialli, who came up short with Sampdoria against Barcelona at Wembley in 1992.

"I still remember that game [the 1992 European Cup final] very well. We shouldn't have lost it, it wasn't deserved," said Mancini.

"But now the circle has come full. 30 years later. Madness! I'm also happy because this trophy also belongs to the Sampdoria fans to a certain extent. Unfortunately, they had to accept the bitter defeat at the time. Now the wounds are being healed."

Italy's impressive defence propelled them to their success as they conceded just four goals at Euro 2020, with England (two), Belgium and Finland (three each), the only teams able to boast better defensive records.

Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose 12 interceptions topped the defensive rankings alongside Ukraine's Mykola Matvienko, marshalled the backline in front of shoot-out hero Donnarumma and Mancini feels the pair deserve significant credit.

"Giorgio [Chiellini] and Leo [Bonucci], of course, have a very large part in our wonderful success. They deserve it so much because they represent 20 years of Italian football history," he explained.

The praise of Chiellini and Bonucci aside, Mancini batted off questions surrounding immortality and history to conclude: "This title is for all the Italians in our country.

"But it is also a gift to all Italians abroad. There is boundless joy right now."

Gianfranco Zola has claimed England boss Gareth Southgate was "too conservative too soon" in the Euro 2020 final and suffered the inevitable consequences.

Italy's penalty shoot-out victory over England at Wembley on Sunday has been followed by reports that Southgate could soon be knighted.

That is despite his team falling short when they had home advantage, failing to build on Luke Shaw's second-minute strike that was the earliest goal scored in a European Championship final.

Roberto Mancini's impressive Italy had 19 shots to England's six over the 120 minutes, while also enjoying 65.4 per cent of possession. The Azzurri finished with an expected goals score of 2.16 compared to England's meagre 0.55, underlining their dominance of the chances.

Leonardo Bonucci's second-half equaliser was followed by Italy edging a nervy battle on spot-kicks to land the trophy for the first time since 1968, and Zola sensed England retreated too quickly into their shell.

"Maybe Southgate was a bit too conservative because England boast important players at the highest level," Zola told Stats Perform.

"They were doubtlessly advantaged and having scored after just two minutes gave them further advantages. But especially in the second half, they started defending the goal cushion too early, defending so deep – as they say in England – enabling Italy to find their pace and plays and the equaliser was a natural consequence.

"So Southgate was too conservative too soon.

"Mancini on the other hand was so good. All the subs proved him right. When he subbed [Nicolo] Barella I was expecting more [Manuel] Locatelli than [Bryan] Cristante, but he got that right too as the team kept their pace high, producing quality."

 

Former Italy forward Zola, who won 35 caps for the Azzurri, was surprised by how little influence England's Mason Mount had on the final.

Mount has been impressive in the Premier League for Chelsea, the club where Zola was such a favourite in a seven-year spell from 1996 to 2003.

But in 99 minutes of action against Italy, before being substituted, Mount had only 36 touches of the ball and completed just 15 of 22 passes for a 68.2 per cent success rate. All of Italy's starting XI had a higher percentage than Mount achieved, with Federico Chiesa's 77.8 per cent their lowest mark.

Chiesa was far more threatening than Mount, who was given an advanced midfield role by Southgate, operating just behind Harry Kane but barely having any influence on the game.

In 54 games for Chelsea last season, across all competitions, Mount scored nine goals, had eight assists and created 109 chances. The 22-year-old had one assist in 464 minutes of action at the Euros, creating eight chances over the tournament.

"For sure after what he had shown in the Premier League, in the Champions League and even in the friendlies ahead of the Euros, he didn't shine," Zola said.

"He is young and the long season with Chelsea where he always played may have had an impact on his sub-par performance. Yet, he is a very skilful player and this experience will help him become better and stronger.

"As I am told, he is a level-headed kind of guy so this experience will help him for sure."

Roberto Mancini has overseen arguably one of the all-time great transformations in international football, not only turning Italy into a team that has a clear and fresh identity, but also a side that is successful.

When they lost 1-0 to Portugal on September 10, 2018 in the Nations League, who'd have thought that by the next time they suffered defeat they'd have won the European Championship? The fact that's the case despite Euro 2020 being delayed for 12 months is all the more impressive.

While the Azzurri required a penalty shoot-out against England in Sunday's final at Wembley, it's fair to say Italy were worthy victors in the end, with their hosts' caution only taking them so far.

In fact, England's pragmatism was arguably akin to the philosophy historically associated with Italy, but under Mancini they've truly embraced a tactical fluidity that has seemingly altered the perception many have of them.

Press smart, work smart

Intense off-the-ball work and a high press have almost become mainstream in modern football. While they aren't necessarily prevalent aspects of every team, not even every great team, many of the world's finest coaches try to implement them to a certain degree.

At Euro 2020, it's been a core strength of Italy – but it's not just a case of chasing down opponents like headless chickens. They've proven themselves to be smart.

 

The average amount of passes Italy allow their opponents to have in their own defensive third before initiating a defensive action is 13 (PPDA). Seven teams at the tournament pressed with greater intensity, but none were as effective as Italy.

Their 56 high turnovers were matched by Denmark but Italy boasted a tournament-high 13 that led to a shot, while three resulted in a goal – that too was bettered by no other team.

It suggests that, while other sides such as Spain (8.1 PPDA) pressed higher, Italy were better at picking their moments and knowing when to up the intensity.

Italy still managed to remain well balanced, too. Their average starting position of 42.9 metres from their own goal was deeper than six other teams, an important factor considering Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci aren't the quickest.

Yet they still pressed to greater effect that any of the others.

Establishing control

If there was one area of the pitch that you might point out as most crucial in Italy's Euro 2020 success (if we ignore Gianluigi Donnarumma's shoot-out saves), it would be their midfield.

Nicolo Barella, Marco Verratti and Jorginho were largely excellent as a trio, though the latter pair have attracted most of the acclaim.

In Verratti, Mancini seems to have a player who truly embodies their style of play – an excellent creator, he also does more than his fair share off the ball as one of the most complete central midfielders in the game today. He puts the fun in functional.

Verratti played the most key passes (14) of anyone at the tournament and ranked fourth for successful passes (87.1) and fifth for tackle attempts (4.0) per 90 minutes (at least 90 mins played).

 

The Paris Saint-Germain star also provided drive from the centre, with his 23 ball carries per 90 minutes bettered by just five midfielders, though only Pedri moved the ball between five and 10 metres upfield more often than Verratti (47), highlighting his progressive mentality.

Yet he didn't do it all on his own – after all, Verratti missed the first two games through injury. No, Jorginho had a similarly important function as the chief deep-lying playmaker, playing 484 successful passes, trailing only Aymeric Laporte.

On top of that, Jorginho showed his innate ability to sniff out danger and get Italy back on the move, with his 48 recoveries the second-highest among outfield players.

Given the presence of these two, it's no wonder Italy strung together the third-most sequences of 10 of more passes (123), yet at no point did you feel they got in each other's way, which again is testament to Mancini's setup.

 

Turning a weakness into a strength

The fact Italy were successful despite not having a particularly convincing striker highlighted the effectiveness of other areas of the team.

Ciro Immobile was Mancini's pick to lead the line. He wasn't necessarily bad, as his goal involvement output of four (two goals, two assists) was only trumped by Patrik Schick and Cristiano Ronaldo.

However, the Lazio man was by no means deadly in front of goal, hitting the target with just three of 18 shots. Among players with at least 10 attempts, just four were accurate with a smaller percentage than Immobile (16.7 per cent).

 

But so fluid were Italy that it didn't really matter. Immobile was one of five Italy players to net two goals, something no team has achieved at the Euros since France did in 2000.

At Italy's Coverciano coach training facility, there is said to have been a growing focus on the development of what are essentially formation-less tactics, and the fact Italy carried a threat from so many different positions suggests such a future actually isn't that far away.

Further to this, Italy showed real flexibility in attack. Sure, they scored 10 times inside the box, a figure third only to Spain and England, but the difference is the Azzurri also netted three from outside the area – no team managed more.

While you might expect that to reflect significantly in their expected goals (xG), Italy still pretty much scored exactly the number of goals one would ordinarily expect from the quality of their chances (13 goals, 13.2 xG), albeit one of those was an own goal.

 

Whether Italy have enough talent coming through to sustain this level and establish the first international 'dynasty' since the Spain side that won Euro 2008, the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 is another debate.

But there's little doubt Mancini has the know-how to make them the team to beat if the production line doesn't dry up.

In the 120th minute of the Euro 2020 final, Giorgio Chiellini decided it was time to race from his defensive station and give Italy a dashing overlap option on the left wing.

He does what he wants. And if this was his last stand for Italy, we witnessed classic Chiellini. What a captain: a nightmare to play against, a dream as a team-mate.

Glory went to his goalkeeper, Gianluigi Donnarumma, for those saves from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka in the shootout, but Italy's success was founded on that Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci axis in the heart of defence.

When Donnarumma pushed away 19-year-old Saka's spot-kick to seal victory, Chiellini roared and grabbed the nearest man in a blue shirt, Manuel Locatelli getting the bear hug.

Moments later he went across to Harry Kane and attempted to console the England skipper, a player whose threat had been utterly blunted by the Italian defence.

The statistics show that Chiellini made just one tackle on the night, but he produced six clearances – four more than any other Italy player – and three interceptions, won more aerial duels (7) than anyone in blue and completed 95.7 per cent of his 115 passes. Just wow.

He turns 37 next month, but was indefatigable here, driving on his team throughout, helping the team that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup become European champions.

The veteran Juventus star retired from international football when Italy failed to qualify for that World Cup, but soon rowed back on that decision. This might be the perfect way to bow out, having guided the Azzurri through grim times and on to triumph.

 

It is 34 games unbeaten now for them, Roberto Mancini's team worthy kings of the continent. Wembley was perhaps less than a third full by the time Chiellini got to lift the trophy, having emptied of most England supporters.

Football's come home to Rome. Chiellini had tears in his eyes as he lifted the trophy, and doubtless it was the same for millions of Italians at home, the first European country to truly feel the horrors of the COVID-19 crisis last spring being given enormous cause for national celebration.

Italy have never lost against England at a major tournament, but when Luke Shaw fired Gareth Southgate's men inside two minutes the locals sensed this time it might be different.

Yet Bonucci became the oldest player to score in a European Championship final as Italian pressure told midway through the second half, tucking in the rebound after Jordan Pickford pushed Marco Verratti's header against the left post.

It had felt that England, with their early lead, were trying to Catenaccio the life out of the Azzurri, beat them at their own game.

Italy had six shots in the first half to England's one. Jorginho, who completed just five passes in the Spain half during Tuesday's semi-final, had 27 such balls that found blue shirts in the first half here.

There was freedom for Italy to play, and even when they lost livewire Federico Chiesa to an ankle injury they continued to dominate and swarm, leading the shot court 14-4 at the 90-minute mark.

In stoppage time at the end of that 90, Chiellini cynically grabbed the shirt of Saka as the teenager looked to burst down the right. Because of course he did. He had the wit to swallow a yellow card for the greater good. A professional's 'professional foul'.

Into the extra half hour and Chiellini made an excellent block to turn Raheem Sterling's cross out for a corner.

Soon afterwards, just as Sterling looked set to shoot or perhaps deliver a killer pass across goal, out stretched a foot from Chiellini to solve Italy's latest problem.

Will Roberto Mancini try to keep him on for the World Cup campaign? A conversation for another day, probably.

 

This was a night of joy for Italy, and what a moment for Mancini, too.

Italy's head coach knows all about Wembley heartbreak, having been on the Sampdoria team that lost 1-0 to Barcelona under the old stadium's twin towers in the 1992 European Cup final, when Gianluca Vialli's misses proved so costly.

Mancini's Manchester City team were dealt a stunning defeat at the rebuilt stadium by Wigan Athletic in the 2013 FA Cup final, with the Italian sacked days later.

He has known magical moments too, delivering City's first trophy for 35 years in the 2011 FA Cup final with a 1-0 win over Stoke City. The semi-final win over Manchester United that year, also at Wembley, was perhaps far more important in terms of the shift of power in English football.

And then Wembley has served Italy well in this tournament, the tense win over Austria, the penalty shoot-out victory over Spain in the semi-finals, and now this latest spot-kicks success.

Chiellini, the oldest player to start as captain in a European Championship final at 36 years and 331 days, as intimidating as a centre-back can be, has been a rollicking thorn in the side of the opposition.

And after all those Scudetto triumphs in the nine-in-a-row Juventus side, Chiellini is a champion with Italy. An outlaw legitimised by his nation's finest footballing hour in many a year.

Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini insists his side were deserved winners in Sunday's Euro 2020 final against England after dominating from the moment they fell behind.

The Azzurri recovered from Luke Shaw's strike after one minute and 57 seconds – the earliest ever European Championship final goal – to win the competition for a second time.

Leonardo Bonucci levelled up for Italy with 67 minutes played, becoming the oldest scorer in a Euros final, and it was Roberto Mancini's side who prevailed 3-2 on penalties for their sixth major tournament title.

England had just 34.4 per cent of the ball, the Three Lions' lowest figure at Wembley since drawing 2-2 with Spain in November 2016.

Italy also outshot their opponents 19 to six across the 120 minutes and Chiellini felt his side were good value for their famous victory in London.

"We won, I think deservedly," he told RAI Sport. "We felt something magical in the air. We'd been saying it since the start of May and we deserve it, all of Italy deserves it.

"It was an incredible sensation. Thank you to everyone who was part of this group over three years and we dedicate it to all those players who are watching from home too.

"They key was always to play football and enjoy ourselves. We wanted to control the game, to hold possession.

"Despite getting that punch in the face within two minutes, we dominated the rest of the match and wanted it at all costs."

 

Gianluigi Donnarumma was Italy's shoot-out hero with two saves, including the decisive stop from Bukayo Saka's attempt to end the Azzurri's 53-year wait to lift the coveted trophy again.

That is the longest gap between championships in the tournament history, surpassing Spain's 44-year wait from 1964 to 2008.

Donnarumma was mobbed by his team-mates at full-time and was hailed by skipper Chiellini, who compared the 22-year-old to the great Gianluigi Buffon.

"We had Gigione! We've gone from Gigi to Gigio," Chiellini said. "It was right to win this way. We are all so happy and can't wait to celebrate with all the Italians tomorrow."

Italy are the first side in European Championship history to win two shoot-outs in a single edition of the competition, having also gone the distance against Spain in the semi-finals.

It marks an incredible turnaround for the Azzurri, who failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 but are now a national record 34 matches without defeat.

Mancini has overseen that long-running streak and was in tears when interviewed at the end of the game at Wembley.

"The lads are marvellous. I don't know what more to say. It's important for all the people and all the fans," Mancini told RAI Sport.

"England did well. We conceded the goal straight away and struggled, but then dominated from there on in.

"We are happy that we played well when winning the game. I hope the supporters are celebrating right now. We're happy now. That's all that matters."

Kieran Trippier returns as Gareth Southgate makes one change to his England starting line-up to face Italy in the final of Euro 2020.

The Atletico Madrid defender takes the place of forward Bukayo Saka as the Three Lions return to the back three that saw them through against Germany in the last 16, while Phil Foden has missed out of the squad altogether due to injury – the Manchester City star having missed training on Saturday due to an unspecified injury.

The change opens up a place in a likely front three for Mason Mount, who previously operated in central midfield in wins over Ukraine and Denmark.

England are otherwise unaltered, with four-goal forward Harry Kane – now the country's joint-leading goalscorer at major tournaments – leading the line and a familiar midfield axis of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice named.

As for Italy, they name an unchanged starting XI from their penalty shootout win over Spain in the semi-final.

Federico Chiesa starts on the right flank of a 4-3-3 formation despite pre-match suggestions that he might miss out through injury.

And Roberto Mancini's men once again count on defensive warriors Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci as they earn their 112th and 109th caps respectively.

England: Pickford, Trippier, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Shaw, Phillips, Rice, Mount, Kane, Sterling.

Italy: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson, Barella, Jorginho, Verratti, Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne.

Roberto Mancini hopes to complete a redemption tale with Italy's national team when they face England in the final of Euro 2020.

Mancini was a lavishly skilled forward and a talismanic leader for Sampdoria during his playing days, but the presence of the likes of Roberto Baggio and Gianfranco Zola in the Azzurri ranks, along with some tempestuous fallouts with coaches meant his was an international career that remained frustratingly unfulfilled.

He amassed 36 caps and scored just four times between 1984 and 1994, yet the 56-year-old's appointment as Azzurri boss in the aftermath of their failure to reach the 2018 World Cup has proved restorative for him and his country.

Playing in an adventurous, attacking style that Mancini pledged to stick with at Wembley, Italy have been a team reborn under the ex-Inter and Manchester City boss.

"I had the opportunity to play for the under-21 side, for the senior side who were excellent, but we weren't able to win either the European Championship or the 1990 World Cup, which we also would have deserved," he told a pre-match news conference.

"It's a very important moment for me because I represent Italy.

"I really hope that I can enjoy the experience that I didn't enjoy during my playing career despite the fact I played in some wonderful Italy teams."

 

Italy's technically superb midfield trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella were unable to exert their usual control against Spain in the semi-final, with Mancini's side restricted to 30 per cent possession in the 1-1 draw before prevailing on penalties.

He insists this happened more down to circumstances than by design and insisted they will take will look to take the game to England.

"We've always played this way. Even against Spain we wanted to play like that, but Spain did a good job in limiting us," Mancini added.

"They kept the ball better than us so they did a better job on that score."

"We will try to do what we have done thus far and what's brought us here. We can't change that now."

Italy striker Ciro Immobile this week thanked Mancini and his staff for giving him "a cuddle" as his individual form has dwindled during the tournament – painting the picture of a happy camp somewhat at odds with the scene he left when he was sacked by City in 2013, a year on from guiding them to the Premier League title.

 

"They all need a cuddle, especially after the 50-odd days that we've spent together," he said.

"Thankfully it's always been a positive, happy camp. They've all given more than a 100 per cent so far, otherwise we wouldn't have made it into the final."

Asked how he would best hope to describe his team in the final, Mancini added: "Entertaining and fun, I would say that again. I hope the players can enjoy themselves for another 90 minutes tomorrow night."

There was a sense of justice and vindication about Italy reaching the final of Euro 2020. They had been arguably the most entertaining side at the tournament and attracted near-universal levels of acclaim for their performances.

Added to that, there was an inspiring narrative that followed their every step, how they'd recovered from the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, started from scratch with a new coach and philosophy, and seen it all come together at their first major tournament since.

But they were fortunate to get beyond Spain in the semi-finals, eventually coming through on penalties after a 1-1 draw.

La Roja did more than enough to win the match, their 1.5 xG almost double the 0.8 that Italy recorded, highlighting the greater quality chances created by Luis Enrique's men.

Although Spain's almost trademark – at this tournament, anyway – wastefulness eventually caught up with them, they at least did Gareth Southgate and England a service in pinpointing ways to hurt Italy.

 

Thinking outside of the box

The chief alteration Luis Enrique made to his side from Spain's previous matches at Euro 2020 was the decision to disregard Alvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno for that central striker berth.

Now, some might have suggested it was about time, given they were two of the three players with the worst xG underperformance ahead of the semi-finals – Morata had two goals from 3.95 xG, Moreno had no goals from 3.27 xG.

But the reason for their absence, and the presence of Dani Olmo as a false nine, quickly became apparent. The RB Leipzig attacking midfielder withdrew into deeper positions so as to not directly engage Giorgio Chiellini or Leonardo Bonucci in physical duels, but at the same time this helped create midfield overloads in Spain's favour.

This was obvious on numerous occasions, but one of the most notable saw Olmo actually drop in front of Jorginho, a clever flick in the centre-circle seeing him release Pedri into space as Spain cleverly picked through the Italian midfield.

Granted, it didn't necessarily lead to a goal that time, but it highlighted how uncomfortable Italy sometimes found themselves, and the fact Olmo's combined total of seven shots and key passes (five attempts, two chances created) was the most of any player against Italy at this tournament cannot be a coincidence.

Morata's equaliser off the bench came from a situation not too dissimilar to the previous one as well. This time it was he who picked the ball up in a deep position, before charging straight through the Italy midfield and playing a one-two with Olmo, leaving him with a simple finish. Although he might've missed a few of those already in this tournament, he finished with aplomb on that occasion.

 

The blueprint

You know how in some video games there are unusually fearsome enemies who only unleash their wrath upon the player if they don't keep their distance? Well, that seemed to be how Luis Enrique saw Chiellini and Bonucci, and maybe he has a point.

Ahead of the final, Chiellini's 71.4 per cent duels success has been bettered by only six defenders (involved in 10 or more duels), while Bonucci's 12 interceptions is the best of all of them. Together, there's not much they don't possess.

That's why playing around them, rather than through them, seems to be the way to go.

While England don't possess a midfield that's as capable – in almost any sense – as Spain's, mirroring their set-up could at least make things trickier for Italy's core: that centre-back pairing and the three-man midfield.

Jorginho, Nicolo Barella and Marco Verratti have been largely excellent at Euro 2020, but at Wembley on Tuesday they were overrun.

 

Jorginho found it particularly tough going, the Chelsea man completing just 26 passes and only five of those were in the Spain half. To put that into context, his previous match low for accurate passes at the Euros was 50, and he'd not gone below 29 in the opponent's half of the pitch.

 

Verratti and Barella also recorded tournament lows in the same metrics, but it was Jorginho's lack of influence that was most notable and, given he is generally the deepest-lying of the Italian midfield, it lends further credence to the idea that Olmo operating slightly deeper ensured the former Napoli star was uncomfortable and unable to truly dictate.

Instead, that was done by Sergio Busquets and – to a slightly lesser extent, but no less impressively – Pedri, while Koke spent much of his time marshalling Verratti in something of a man-marking role.

Of course, an important distinction to make is that Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Mason Mount aren't Busquets, Pedri and Koke, but if England are to limit the influence of the Italian midfield, all three will need to play the games of their lives.

Kane holds the key

If Phillips and Rice can establish some form of control, the second key factor for England will be the role played by Harry Kane.

While Kane is undoubtedly capable of causing Bonucci and Chiellini problems, mimicking Olmo's performance could be a smart move, and there are few strikers in world football more capable than the Tottenham man at dropping deep and impacting the match in withdrawn spaces.

Jose Mourinho would know all about that, given it was under the Portuguese coach in 2020-21 that Kane enjoyed his best season creatively, reaching double figures for Premier League assists for the first time.

Mourinho told talkSPORT: "[Spain] was the only team that managed to unbalance that Italy midfield, because they had three and Spain had three plus Olmo, almost in a diamond. It was really difficult for Italy to cope with it. I can see Harry Kane doing that a lot. I can see Harry dropping and being away from Bonucci and Chiellini.

 

"For Bonucci and Chilellini, to have a target man in there is what they want. By not having a target man there, it's an extra midfielder, Harry Kane does that better than anyone."

Kane's 14 assists (12 in open play) in 2020-21 came from 3.6 xA (expected assists). Granted, that 10.4 over-performance – which was by far the best across the top five leagues – suggests a hint of fortune or that he was helped by good finishing from team-mates, but the idea he got lucky on every single occasion is far-fetched. He is clearly a fine link-up player.

Seven of those assists came from deeper positions, and the role Raheem Sterling plays for England isn't too dissimilar to that of Son Heung-min at Spurs, and we all know about Kane and Son's on-pitch relationship.

Italy's midfield is their strength, but all three of their regulars are players who want the ball – none of them are destroyers, and Spain have provided England with the blueprint to dull their impact.

Whether the Three Lions are up to the challenge will define if 55 years of hurt finally end on Sunday.

 

England will hope to end a 55-year major-tournament trophy drought on Sunday when they meet Italy in the Euro 2020 final, while Roberto Mancini is eyeing the crowning achievement of his transformational reign.

The Three Lions have not even qualified for a final since winning the 1966 World Cup and will be competing in their first European Championship decider. It will be Italy's third this century, though it is a competition they have not won in 53 years.

Although Italy's performances up to the final have generally attracted widespread acclaim, with the Azzurri stretching their unbeaten record to 33 matches, England will once again have the advantage as hosts.

England have won 15 of their previous 17 matches at Wembley, while seven of the previous 10 instances of a European nation competing in a major tournament final as hosts (World Cup/Euros) have ended in victory for the home side.

 

As much as anything, Gareth Southgate has cherished the chance to bring joy to fans so far at the tournament, but he is not kidding himself that adulation is a guarantee.

"I know we can make people's lives happier," he told the Telegraph. "It's a wonderful privilege to be able to make a difference, but if you get any of those bits wrong it can fall down and it's no use being able to speak about areas of society.

"If we don't get the tactical bit right, the selections right, if we don't manage the players the right way, the house falls down. I know now this is a lovely period in many ways, but we've got to get Sunday right."

Nevertheless, Italy have confounded their doubters every step of the way at Euro 2020, and Mancini, having taken over his national team in the wake of World Cup qualification failure three years ago, is a step away from completing one the great turnarounds in international football.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy – Marco Verratti

While Jorginho has arguably been the Italian midfielder to garner the most applause at Euro 2020, Verratti has been no less integral when on the pitch. Only Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (15) has started more open-play sequences ending in a shot than him (nine), while Kevin De Bruyne (13) is the sole individual with more chances created (12 for Verratti). He is not just important to Italy's flow in possession, but he also has a vital role as a creator – if England find a way to keep him quiet, their own title hopes will surely improve considerably.

England – Harry Kane

In a sense, Spain gave England something resembling a blueprint of how to nullify some of Italy's strengths. One aspect was Dani Olmo deployed as a false nine, with La Roja trying not to directly engage the Italian centre-backs while also creating a midfield overload. If any striker in world football is equipped to carry out a similar role, it's Kane. The Tottenham star remarkably got 12 open-play assists from 3.6 xA (expected assists) in the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, with as many as six coming from deeper positions. Granted, his over-performance of 8.4 suggests he benefited from some luck or good finishing, but it also proves how effective he can be.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Between them, England (2.2) and Italy (2.3) have faced fewer shots on target per game than any other sides at Euro 2020. England also have the lowest expected goals against tally in the competition so far (3.2).

- Italy have had 12 shots and scored three goals as a result of a high turnover (open play sequences beginning 40metres or less from opponents' goal line) at Euro 2020, more than any other side.

- England's 2-1 win over Denmark in the semi-final was their eighth win in a major tournament match under Southgate, moving him level with Alf Ramsey for joint most victories by an England manager across the two competitions.

- This is the third major tournament final to be held at Wembley Stadium. The previous two were both won in extra time, with England beating Germany in the 1966 World Cup, and Die Mannschaft then defeating the Czech Republic in Euro 1996.

- England are the 13th different nation to feature in a European Championship final (counting Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic as one) – just three of the previous 12 lost their first ever final in the competition: Yugoslavia (1960), Belgium (1980) and Portugal (2004).  

Giorgio Chiellini quipped Italy's squad believed Roberto Mancini to be "crazy" when the Azzurri boss initially laid out his plans to win Euro 2020.

Mancini was appointed Italy coach in May 2018, after the Azzurri's failure to qualify for that year's World Cup.

After an indifferent start to his tenure, Italy have gone on a record-setting 33-match unbeaten run, leading them to the Euro 2020 final, in which they will face England at Wembley.

Along with their opponents on Sunday, Italy have been the standout performers in the competition, and saw off fellow heavyweights Belgium and Spain en route to the final.

Juventus' Chiellini has been a key figure, with the veteran campaigner making four appearances.

And though Italy will be full of confidence heading into the showdown, he revealed the faith in Mancini's plan was not always so prominent. 

"[Getting to the final is] a dream we've been chasing over the years, a dream we've been carrying [with us] for three years, a dream our coach slowly put in our minds until it became true," Chiellini told UEFA.com.

"At the beginning, when he told us to have in our minds the idea of winning the Euro, we thought he was crazy; 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 centimetre at a time', and now there is only the last centimetre left.

"This championship has been very emotional, from the first match against Turkey up to now. But, if I read some of the texts that I sent before Euro 2020 to some of my close friends, the feeling was that we would have a summer filled with emotion, joy, magical nights and adventures.

"It was in us because you felt the ease and the bond that we feel when this team does things together."

 

Chiellini is 36, but has never won an international competition with Italy, having missed out on the squad for the 2006 World Cup.

He has played in a European Championship final before, only to fall foul of an all-conquering Spain side that thrashed Italy 4-0 in 2012.

" A win is as exciting at 36 as it is at 21. Maybe at 36 you feel it more because you understand more how hard it is and the work that goes into it," said Chiellini, the eighth-oldest player to have been involved in Euro 2020.

"I believe that I have succeeded in bringing my experience here and the emotions that I felt from the 15 years since I started playing professionally.

"You know how it feels at every age: at 20, at 25, and at 30 you start understanding your team-mates' behaviour. Now, I have the maturity to understand fully what this championship means to us."

Italy head coach Roberto Mancini insisted the Azzurri are not done yet after silencing their doubters to reach the Euro 2020 final.

Not since 1968 have Italy won the European Championship but they are one victory away from adding to their solitary Euro crown following Tuesday's 4-2 penalty shoot-out triumph over Spain.

After the semi-final finished 1-1 at the end of extra time at Wembley, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved Alvaro Morata's spot-kick as Jorginho stepped up to convert the winning penalty in London.

Amid a national record 33-game unbeaten streak, Italy will face either England or Denmark in Sunday's decider at Wembley.

"We're delighted to have been able to provide this wonderful evening's entertainment to the Italian people and now we still have one game to go and we want to do exactly that if possible," Mancini – who has overseen a stunning transformation after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup – said during a news conference.

"We knew that it was going to be a very tough match because in terms of ball possession, Spain are the best around. They caused us problems, we had to dig in when we needed to. We tried to score and create opportunities when we could it was a very open match and of course there were some issues because we didn't have too much possession.

"However we wanted to make it into the final and we kept trying right until the end and as ever penalties are a lottery but I really want to take my hat off to Spain, they're a wonderful team."

Italy became the second team in the European Championship history after winners France at Euro 2000 to have five different players score two or more goals in a single tournament, following Federico Chiesa's 60th-minute opener, which was cancelled out by Morata with 10 minutes of regulation remaining.

 

The Azzurri's 12 goals at Euro 2020 is their joint-highest tally at a major tournament alongside the 2006, 1982 and 1934 World Cups. On each of those occasions, they left with the trophy.

Italy reached their 10th major final (World Cup and Euros), progressing to the decider of the European Championships for the fourth time (also six World Cup finals) – only Germany (14) have participated in more major finals amongst European nations.

Mancini said: "I must say that we are very happy about all of this, and I must thank the players because they have believed right from day one that we could produce something incredible. We haven't yet done everything we need to, there's still one step to go, and now we have to rest up because this really was very challenging.

"I did say to them before the match that this would be our hardest game of the competition, because when you go into your sixth match in such quick succession with all the travelling we've had to do, it does become very tiring. We certainly struggled with Spain's ball possession and had some issues, but we wanted to make the final."

"I think when you're involved in such an intense World Cup or European Championship, there always comes a game where you will have to dig in to be able to win a match and suffer, because it can't all be very smooth as our progress has been thus far going into the final four," he continued. "So we knew that it was going to be a very tough match, and we knew that it was going to be this game that would be the tough one. That's why I think the players, and everyone that has worked with us over the last three years deserve a lot of credit, because it wasn't easy by any means. Almost no one believed we could do it. And yet we are into the final. We are pleased for Italians everywhere that have been following us over the last few weeks."

Mancini added: "Everyone wants to do this. Occasionally it comes off, sometimes less so. But the players did want to do something different, they wanted to play a brand of football that people enjoyed and thus far they've managed to do exactly that. Difficult tasks are ultimately all the more enjoyable, and we are very happy to have made it into the final but we haven't achieved anything yet. So we still have to wait."

Euro 2020 is disappearing before our eyes, with the delayed tournament somehow already at the business end as we head into the final three matches.

It's been a thrill ride since the very beginning. From Italy making a sparkling start and Denmark rallying after Christian Eriksen's medical emergency, to France falling at the last 16 and England reaching the semi-finals of a second successive major tournament.

Italy, England, Spain and Denmark are all that's left as Euro 2020 enters its final week, and at this point it seems particularly tricky to call, particularly between first three.

But, given how integral statistics are to football these days, data can potentially give you edge when attempting to predict certain outcomes, and this is where Stats Perform's Artificial Intelligence team comes in as they've used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each semi-finalist's chances of winning tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform Euros Prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances and also takes into consideration the strength of each side's opponents.

The games are then simulated 40,000 times and analysed, providing the AI team with a percentage for each nation, showing the probability of them ultimately lifting the trophy at Wembley on July 11.

Without any further ado, let's take a look at the results…

Denmark (8.8 per cent chance of winning Euro 2020)

The fact Denmark even got out of their group was an achievement in itself as they became the first team to ever reach the knockout phase having lost their opening two matches. Yet, here we are.

The Danes are into the last four for the first time since winning the competition in 1992 and have really hit their stride since their two early defeats, with only Spain (12) outscoring Kasper Hjulmands' men until this point (11) – that haul is the most they've ever managed at a major tournament.

 

Denmark have projected a real sense of unity since Eriksen collapsed against Finland, and it's hard to believe they will fear anyone at this point.

Nevertheless, England should represent trickier opposition than the likes of Wales and the Czech Republic, which is perhaps reflected by the fact their 8.8 per cent chance of winning the title is the lowest of the four remaining teams.

But if standout performers such as Joakim Maehle, Simon Kjaer and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg continue to deliver the goods, who's to say they cannot emulate the 1992 vintage?

 

Spain (23.1 per cent)

Luis Enrique's Spain have been a fascinating watch at Euro 2020, partly because they somehow manage to flitter between exceptional and unrefined. Their erratic nature has become one of the sideshows of the tournament.

For example, only the Netherlands (53) have forced more high turnovers than Spain, while La Roja are the sole side to break the 100 barrier in terms of sequences of 10 or more passes (147). They only allow their opponents 8.3 passes on average in the defensive third before they initiate a defensive action, indicating they are the most intense pressers at the tournament, and their haul of 12 goals is more than anyone else.

 

Yet, their xGA (expected goals against) of 6.8 is comfortably the worst of the four teams left, and their xG underperformance of 3.6 is the biggest of all 24 teams. In short, these points suggest that not only have Spain been lucky to only concede five times, they are also the most wasteful team at Euro 2020.

 

That's obviously not helped by the fact Gerard Moreno (no goals from 3.3 xG) and Alvaro Morata (two goals from 3.95 xG) are among the three players with the worst xG underperformance records in the competition.

However, they've got this far and have still crafted plenty of goal-scoring opportunities, with their record of 25 big chances a tournament-high. If the penny drops with Spain's forwards and they start to convert in line with their xG, they could have real joy.

 

England (29.1 per cent)

It would be fair to say England's performances in the group stage, although not alarming, certainly didn't inspire a huge amount of confidence as they scored just two goals. But in the two games since, they have netted six times and attracted significant acclaim.

The fact they don't necessarily stand out in many specific team metrics (perhaps bar 10+ passing sequences – 98, second to Spain) is arguably partly down to how flexible Gareth Southgate's team have been in their approach to specific games. For example, their passes per defensive action (PPDA) dropped from 13.7 against Scotland to 25.9 against Germany, suggesting they were concerned about the German midfield playing through their press and instead sat back more in order to cut off passing routes.

Of course, adapting to your opponents is hardly revolutionary, most teams do it to a certain extent, but in a tournament where Spain and Italy have almost religiously stuck to principals and formations that govern their setups, England have chopped and changed.

 

It's clearly worked as well given the fact the Three Lions have equalled a major-tournament record of five successive clean sheets, while their 2.95 xGA (with no goals conceded) leads the way at Euro 2020.

With their defence seemingly watertight and Harry Kane finding some confidence with three goals in two games, England look in great shape. If our prediction model took into consideration that all of the remaining games are to be at Wembley, they'd likely be a bit closer to top spot.

 

Italy (38.9 per cent)

It seems like a long time ago now that Italy came into Euro 2020 as – some claimed at the time – unknown quantities. The common conception was that their 27-match unbeaten run coming into the tournament was misleading because most of the games were said to have been against sub-optimal opposition.

Well, they are now at 32 games unbeaten having won or drawn all of their five matches to this point at Euro 2020, setting a new national record in the process.

But, more than that, they've been utterly joyful to watch. They are relentless in attack, as highlighted by their tournament-leading shot (11) and goal-ending high turnovers (three), but also impressive at the back having only conceded one non-penalty goal.

 

Built around a solid core of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella that expertly blends craft and guile arguably unlike any team at Euro 2020, Roberto Mancini's turned Italy into a side that's not only been generally fun to watch, but also effective.

Spain represent a completely different challenge to any other side Italy have faced thus far, yet Luis Enrique's men have afforded their opponents plenty of chances. The Azzurri have been consistent throughout in attack, as demonstrated by their 11 goals from 10.3 xG. Without the one own goal in their favour, it would be 10 from 10.3 xG.

 

Italy have shown no major weaknesses en route to the semi-finals, and as such our model suggests it is they who have the greatest chance of success this week.

Italy and Spain are preparing to face one another for the 10th time at a major tournament, but Luis Enrique believes this is an Azzurri side like never before.

The two old rivals have been paired again in the semi-finals at Euro 2020, making this the most common fixture at the European Championship and World Cup combined.

This will be the seventh Euros clash, with the sides meeting at least once in four consecutive championships.

Spain eliminated Italy in 2008 and beat them in the final in 2012 but were toppled by the Azzurri four years later and now face a rejuvenated Roberto Mancini outfit.

"This Italy side isn't, perhaps, like the ones of years gone by – one that would sit back and wait to see what happened," Spain coach Luis Enrique said.

"This is an Italy side with great players who aim to have a lot of possession. This will be the first battle in the game: who dominates possession?

"I don't think both of us can dominate, so it'll be interesting to see who wins this tussle.

"Apart from having top players, Italy are a real team. They attack and defend as a unit, which is really similar to what we do.

"They also employ a high press, which it would be hard to imagine an Italian side from the past doing.

"Now they're strong in several ways of playing, meaning that the game will be really interesting. Both teams will have their moments."

Mancini, whose men are unbeaten in 32 and have won 13 in a row, was asked how Italy's Jorginho might match up against Sergio Busquets.

 

Among midfielders to have played 90 minutes or more at the tournament, Busquets ranks eighth for passes attempted per 90 (77.7) and Jorginho 10th (74.9).

"Certainly, they are among the best in their role," Mancini said.

"Busquets has been a fantastic player for many years. He has been around for longer, compared to Jorginho.

"Considering the way he is playing right now, however, Jorginho is certainly among the best, too."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy – Emerson

Leonardo Spinazzola has been one of the tournament's most impressive players at wing-back for Italy, creating seven chances from open play – including one assist – and having a championship-high six shot-ending carries. Emerson is likely to be the man asked to step in, having replaced Spinazzola against Belgium after he was taken off on a stretcher, and has big boots to fill.

Spain – Pedri

Busquets might have been the man at the centre of pre-match discussion, but Pedri has arguably been Spain's most impressive midfield performer at these finals. Against Switzerland, he created five chances and made five tackles. The Barcelona teenager has been involved in five more shot-ending sequences (35) than any other player at Euro 2020.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– Italy have only beaten Spain twice in their past 14 meetings in all competitions (D7 L5), a 2-1 friendly win in 2011 and, most recently, a 2-0 victory at Euro 2016 in the last 16, with goals from Giorgio Chiellini and Graziano Pelle.
– The Azzurri have reached their 12th semi-final at a major tournament (EUROs/World Cup), with only Germany (20) appearing at the final four stage more often among all European sides. They have progressed from nine of the previous 11 semi-final ties, including each of the past four – most recently in this competition in 2012 when they eventually lost in the final to Spain (4-0).
– Italy have won all five of their matches at Euro 2020, the only side of the remaining final four with a 100 per cent record to date. Only at the World Cup (Italia 90) have they won more games at a single major tournament (six), while the only European side to win each of their first six games at a major tournament was the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup, when they suffered defeat to Spain in the final in South Africa.
– Spain have reached the semi-finals of the European Championships for the third time in the past four editions of the competition (failing to do so in 2016). Indeed, they have gone on to win the competition on each of the past two occasions they have reached the final four – in 2008 and 2012.
– After losing each of their first four matches at Wembley Stadium between 1955 and 1968, Spain have only suffered one defeat in their past five matches there (W2 D2). However, they were knocked out of the Euros in 1996 at Wembley, losing to hosts England on penalties.

Italy coach Roberto Mancini is expecting a tough test from an "extraordinary" Spain side in the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

The two teams go head to head at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday hoping to earn a place in the showpiece fixture of the tournament.

Spain have won just one of their five games en route to the last four in normal time – a group-stage victory over Slovakia that staved off the threat of an early exit.

But Italy have been altogether more convincing in winning each of their five outings without the need for extra time or penalties.

When it was put to him that many Italians believe their team is already in the final as a result of this strong form, Mancini replied: "I hope you get it right for once.

"It won't be easy. We need to put in a great performance. Spain are a top team, we are in the semi-finals, so it won't be easy.

"It will be a tough game, Spain are different from Belgium, but we will still face many difficulties.

 

"We suffered against Austria because of their aggressiveness and because it was the first game in the knockout stage.

"Spain have been extraordinary over the last few years, they have many young players and an excellent coach.

"Luis Enrique won the Champions League with Barcelona, but not only that. His Roma side played good football."

After scoring in Italy's opening two fixtures, Ciro Immobile has faced criticism for the two goalless games that have followed, particularly the quarter-final win over Belgium.

But Mancini has leapt to the defence of his striker, saying: "He is the Golden Boot, one of the best scorers of the last few years. 

"Sometimes the most criticised are the decisive ones during the Euros or the World Cup."

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