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As much as the British press would have you believe, England is not the story here. England finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup. They finished third in the UEFA Nations League. A final at the Euros was a natural progression and it was apparent – England have only improved over the past few years.



As long as you were not blinded by disdain for Gareth Southgate and his waistcoat, it was easy to see that England have semifinal experience, a very high quality squad, and a manager who has the tactical maturity to take calculated risks. England’s story at Euro 2020 is not one of comeback or of hardships. It is romantic only to English fans. Italy’s, on the other hand, is one for the ages.



The decade gone by was poor by the Azzurri’s standards. The high of being the 2012 Euro runners up soon came crashing down with the unceremonious exits from the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Euros at the hands of Uruguay and Germany respectively. The score-lines of those defeats might be respectable, but Italy were second-best by a distance in both the matches.

The 2018 World Cup brought a new nadir – the first time that the nation failed to qualify for the showpiece since 1958. The manner of the 1-0 playoff loss to Sweden highlighted everything that had gone wrong for Italy. Their attack was neither creative nor ruthless enough and they could no longer rely on their defence to be an impregnable wall. In short, Catenaccio was dead.



It wasn’t just on-field tactics also. A sense of lethargy and meek acceptance had begun to set in. In the second leg against Sweden, the angry man of Rome, Daniele de Rossi, screamed at manager Gianpiero Ventura to send on forward Lorenzo Insigne when Italy needed a goal instead of himself, a mere defensive midfielder. Ventura ignored. Italy crashed and burned.

The stalwarts of old in de Rossi, Gigi Buffon, Andrea Barzagali and Giorgio Chiellini announced their retirement in the aftermath of the failure. In these, ignominious circumstances, came in Roberto Mancini. Mancini had been the face of the new Manchester City at the turn of the decade but since had slipped into relative anonymity. Underwhelming spells at Galatasaray, Inter Milan and Zenit St. Petersburg had followed his time at the Eithad and his appointment as the head coach was billed to be uninspiring.



Their transformation since that tough period has been remarkable.  They waltzed through qualifying, winning 10 matches out of 10. They are the second-highest scorers at Euro 2020 while also conceding the second fewest goals. They have taken the second highest number of shots while also making the third highest tackles.

Five players have scored two goals each for Italy so far at the tournament. From a want of goals to an excess of goalscorers, Mancini has redefined Italy’s footballing identity. They have added attacking flair to their defensive solidity to become one of the most consistent and entertaining teams on the continent.



Chiellini was recalled by Mancini to partner Leo Bonnucci and made captain. Players like Dominico Berardi, Federico Chiesa, and Manuel Locatelli have been blooded in with great care. Marco Verratti, Jorginho, and Ciro Immobile have grown in stature and stepped up a level under Mancini. The fact that Insigne, who was being overlooked by Ventura against Sweden, got the winner against Belgium in the quarterfinals shows just how drastic the turnaround has been under Mancini’s stewardship in a short period a time.

Italy’s revival is shorter and stronger and to an objective fan, more important. And what they do on-field at Wembley come Sunday is also more important than what England do. Everyone knows what England’s game plan will be. Southgate is a great manager as he has shown but he is no Pep Guardiola and is unlikely to throw any curveballs. England, in a nutshell, will aim to be defensively solid and quick on the counter. Italy, though, has been the juggernaut and it is their outlook which will decide how the final goes.



In the group stage, they attacked through the channels with Locatelli given full freedom to roam and find space against weaker opposition. In the knockouts against Austria and Belgium it was the maverick dribblers in Chiesa, Insigne and Pessina who had the attacking onus. In the semifinal, Mancini decided to cede the ball to Spain and target Eric Garcia as the weak link in La Roja’s defence while countering.



Italy have shown that they have the tactical nous and the individual quality to get results. That leaves just a potential psychological hurdle that could undermine their performance against England. And well, that has never been a problem for Italy. The prime example being the mind games played by captain Chiellini and goalkeeper Donnarumma ahead of the penalty shootout in the semi-final against Spain.

The reports and narratives may all well be about Southgate’s boys in the English press ahead of the final but it is Mancini’s men who are in-charge of the match. If they turn up, and there is no reason to suggest they won’t, then even God won’t be able to save the Queen.

Ritwik Khanna
Economics student supporting FC Goa and Manchester United, in true masochistic way. Can be found reading Jonathan Wilson and Sid Lowe or planning a quirky trip in his free time.

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