Leonardo Bonucci made history when he scored Italy's equaliser against England on Sunday, becoming the oldest player to score in a European Championship final.

The Juventus centre-back, aged 34 years and 71 days, netted from close range after 67 minutes at Wembley to cancel out Luke Shaw's early strike.

Bonucci, who made his Italy debut in 2010, became the second-oldest player for a European side to score at any major tournament, after Nils Liedholm (35y 264d) for Sweden against Brazil at the 1958 World Cup.

He was making his 18th European Championship appearance - the most of any Italian player, overtaking Gianluigi Buffon's 17.

England wing-back Luke Shaw scored the fastest goal in a European Championship final with his strike inside two minutes against Italy.

Shaw got on the end of a Kieran Trippier cross at the far post and thumped a volley past Gianluigi Donnarumma to give Gareth Southgate's side an early lead in Sunday's clash at Wembley.

The goal was Shaw's first for England on his 16th appearance and was timed at one minute and 57 seconds, surpassing the previous record held by Chus Pereda for Spain against the Soviet Union in 1964 (05:04)

It was also England's fastest goal in a European Championship match, 17 seconds quicker than Alan Shearer's effort against Germany in 1996.

Shaw has been a key player in the Three Lions' run to the final on home soil, having also assisted three goals prior to the Italy showdown. In fact, only Cristiano Ronaldo (six) and Patrik Schick (five) have been directly involved in more goals at Euro 2020 than Shaw.

 

UEFA has released a statement confirming that the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy is set to go ahead despite disruption caused by fans jumping perimeter barriers in the build-up to kick-off.

Videos of supporters appearing to break through perimeters set up by stewards at Wembley Stadium have been widely shared across social media prior to Sunday's game.

However, UEFA insists that no fan has managed to enter the stadium without a ticket and so the game should take place as scheduled.

UEFA's statement read: "Fans have been jumping over barriers but there has been no access to the stadium. No concern that any protocol will come into place in which the stadium will be shut down.

"There is no concern this final will not go ahead."

A spokesperson for the Football Association said: "We are dealing with an incident that occurred at the outer security perimeter area of the stadium, with support from police.

"Safety measures were quickly activated in the relevant areas and there were no security breaches of people without tickets getting inside the stadium."

UEFA have released a statement confirming that the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy is set to go ahead despite disruption caused by fans jumping perimeter barriers in the build-up to kick-off.

Videos of supporters appearing to break through perimeters set up by stewards at Wembley Stadium have been widely shared across social media prior to Sunday's game.

However, UEFA insist that no fan has managed to enter the stadium without a ticket and so the game should take place as scheduled.

UEFA's statement read: "Fans have been jumping over barriers but there has been no access to the stadium. No concern that any protocol will come into place in which the stadium will be shut down.

"There is no concern this final will not go ahead."

A spokesperson for the Football Association said: "We are dealing with an incident that occurred at the outer security perimeter area of the stadium, with support from police.

"Safety measures were quickly activated in the relevant areas and there were no security breaches of people without tickets getting inside the stadium."

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.

Gareth Southgate has offered heartfelt thanks to England fans for their support ahead of a first major tournament final appearance in 55 years.

The Three Lions have played five of their six games en route to the showpiece fixture of Euro 2020 in front of a partisan crowd at Wembley Stadium.

And they will contest a sixth at their home ground on Sunday when they take on Italy aiming to win a first piece of silverware since the 1966 World Cup.

Ahead of that showdown, Southgate has placed on his record his appreciation for the backing he and his team have received both from the stands and further afield.

He said: "I just wanted to take the time to say thank you to everybody for the incredible support we've received throughout this tournament. 

"We hope that we've represented you in the right way, we hope that you've enjoyed watching us play. 

"I'm very grateful to all of the players and in the incredible staff I've got with me that we've been able to get to our first final for 55 years, but of course we know now we've got to deliver for you. 

"We'll be doing everything we can, your support and energy has given us a huge lift and I know it will on Sunday."

Raheem Sterling should be named player of the tournament if England beat Italy to win Euro 2020, according to Jamie Carragher.

With the 26-year-old having rounded off last season with just one goal from his last 16 appearances for Manchester City, it was suggested that his England starting place might be under threat.

However, he has come alive at the tournament, scoring the Three Lions' first three goals of the tournament (two of which were winners), grabbing an assist, and winning the penalty that booked a place in the final.

And former England international Carragher believes those contributions have marked him out as the star man of Euro 2020.

"Nobody has been able to cope with Sterling in this tournament," he told Sky Sports. "If England go on to win he will win player of the tournament – he has been outstanding.

"His position was questioned before the tournament after not having his best season at Man City but from what we have seen Sterling always has to be in this England team.

"The pace he provides, the goals he provides. He has become a major goal threat under Gareth Southgate. 

"We can talk about how Italy can stop him, but if he makes runs in behind the centre-backs and the right full-back then he can be a threat.

"An obvious change at some stage would be Jack Grealish coming on and playing down the left and Sterling going down the right to have a go at Emerson from Chelsea, who has not played a lot of football this season.

"He is the one who can cause Italy some real problems."

 

England have yet to concede an open-play goal at this summer's tournament - thanks in no small part to the work of a midfield shield comprised of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice.

And Carragher thinks their role will be key again in the final if Gareth Southgate's side are to get over the line.

He continued: "Midfield is key for England, if England don’t get the centre of midfield right, that is where they could have a huge problem.

"Italy are really strong through the centre of the pitch – certainly at centre-back and central midfield, there is a lot of onus on England's midfield three in this game. 

"If they perform and can get after the Italians midfield then England have certainly got enough in the attacking areas of the pitch to win the game.

"But midfield is a real strength of Italy so that is where England have really got to get on top and make it difficult, so it will be up to Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Mason Mount in there.

"A lot has been made about the centre-back partnership – outstanding,  legendary players for their country and for Juventus [but] you shouldn’t forget how old they are though.

"I think England can out run them basically in this game, the energy from the bench will be vital as it was in the Denmark game. 

"It will be really tight game – I think we are looking at the best two teams in this tournament, certainly on form, so I think it’s the right final."

 

Gary Neville has urged the FA to tie down their "greatest asset" Gareth Southgate ahead of England's first appearance in a major tournament final in 55 years.

The Three Lions are out to win the European Championship for the first time in their history on Sunday when they face Italy at Wembley Stadium.

Win or lose, this run to the final is the latest mark of the progress made by international football's perennial underachievers, who also made it to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup under Southgate.

And Neville believes English football chiefs must do all they can to keep the man who has masterminded these recent successes in charge for as long as possible.

He told Sky Sports: "I said it four or five weeks ago that I thought that Gareth Southgate is our greatest asset and I'm still absolutely of that opinion. 

"There is nobody in this country that knows international football better than Gareth Southgate in terms of tournament football and that's got the ability to coach. 

"Many of us have been to many tournaments, but he's then been in the U21s.

"He's been in the system, he knows exactly what it's like to coach in the system of the FA, understands the politics and the way in which the FA works and accepts that and [doesn't] make it a problem, which many managers in the past have. 

"All those things that are difficult to contend with, the media, the handling of players, the club v country stuff - he's seen all that before in his playing career and U21s career and all those things that he's seen happen wrong before he's been able to put right through his experiences as England manager and that's why he is our greatest asset. 

"We should try and keep him for as long as we possibly can, that's not to say we'll win [against Italy], that's not to say we'll win in the next tournament or do well in the next two tournaments but I genuinely don't believe there is anyone who has got the experience, knowledge and capability to perform for England like he has."

 

A raucous atmosphere is sure to greet England as they step out onto the Wembley turf aiming to secure their first trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup at the same stadium.

But Neville expects the players to be better prepared for the emotion of the occasion after experiencing similar during their semi-final win over Denmark.

He continued: "It'd be interesting to know whether the pressure impacted the players in the first half an hour of the game against Denmark because the first 20 minutes after kick-off - it was absolutely mesmerising, spine-tingling to the point where it had an impact upon us [in the stadium].

"No England player would have seen that since Euro '96 so I can't believe that didn't have an impact on them in the first half an hour.

"They were in a special place on Wednesday but I think because of that they will be used to it and will be better prepared for what's going to happen [in the final].

"Germany was good but Wednesday was absolutely off the scale against Denmark. It was brilliant."

 

Gareth Southgate could spring a surprise by starting Jadon Sancho instead of Bukayo Saka for England in the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

That is the view of former England defender Gary Neville, who believes the spot on the right wing that was filled by Saka in the semi-final win over Denmark is the only position up for grabs.

Neville would have been tempted to play Marcus Rashford if the Manchester United forward had been in better form.

Instead he believes another soon-to-be United player Sancho, who started the quarter-final against Ukraine in Saka's absence, could be the man who gets the nod if 19-year-old is indeed left out.

Saka has had an impressive tournament for England and Neville acknowledges it could be an "unpopular" decision.

He feels it would be easier for Southgate to pick an unchanged side and then take Saka off in the second half as he did in the extra-time triumph in the last four.

The Arsenal youngster has been put forward for many press interviews prior to the Italy clash, but Neville thinks that could be a red herring.

 

"There is only one possible change and that's Saka," he said to ITV Sport.

"I know that would possibly be an unpopular thing to say.

"He may say [to Saka] go for 60 minutes and we'll get you off - which he's done before - he may say that and go with the same team. 

"But I just wonder whether he might bring someone else in.

"Actually putting him up for interviews before the final makes me think he might not be playing.

"If Rashford was in form I'd go Rashford-Sterling just to get in behind [Giorgio] Chiellini and [Leonardo] Bonucci but Rashford hasn't been in the greatest of form. 

"I would think it would be Sancho if Saka doesn't play.

"I think you have to play two of the quicker ones, so it would be Saka, Sancho or Rashford with Sterling on the other side."

 

Phil Foden missed training on Saturday with a knock and the Manchester City star is the only injury doubt for England.

While he called the development "a blow", Neville believes England can cope due to their strength in depth, particularly in the attacking positions.

He told Sky Sports: "It would be a blow for Phil Foden personally and for the team because he is an important part of those six or seven forward players that we have that float around Harry Kane.

"One of the great strengths in this tournament is that you can start Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling and bring on Jack Grealish or Jadon Sancho or Phil Foden and not really drop in quality that much.

"We have got an exceptional amount of talent in those positions.

"We are better in the latter half of games, the danger against Italy is that if we do start badly in that first half an hour then the Italians will punish us more than Denmark did.

"You don’t want to be behind to a team with the defensive record that they have.

"It's important that Foden is fit for him personally but if not then an injury is an injury, it's important that we have a lot of players who are fit in those positions going into the last 20 minutes of games which has become critical for us."

Gareth Southgate insists Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips will not be fazed about going up against Italy's much-lauded midfield, pointing out they coped well despite their relative inexperience against two modern greats in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Italy have enjoyed almost universal acclaim for their performances at Euro 2020, with their run to Sunday's final seeing them extend their unbeaten run to 33 matches, a national record.

A lot of the praise has been centred around their midfield trio of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho and Marco Verratti, the latter two in particular.

Jorginho carries out an important function as their deep-lying playmaker, and his influence is highlighted by the fact he has completed more passes (390) and had more touches of the ball (503) than any of his team-mates, while his 38 instances of regaining possession and instigating passing sequences is 10 more than anyone else in the tournament.

As for Verratti, the Paris Saint-Germain star's 12 key passes is bettered by only Kevin De Bruyne and he leads the way in terms of involvements in open-play sequences that end in a shot, averaging 9.2 every 90 minutes (players with at least 165 mins played), which paints a picture of not only great creativity but also significant impact generally in Italy's build-up play.

 

Yet Italy struggled in that area against Spain and were subsequently overrun at times, their 0.8 xG to La Roja's 1.5 proof they were somewhat fortunate to get past Luis Enrique's side via a penalty shoot-out.

As such, Spain essentially highlighted that to dull Italy's strengths they need to win the midfield battle, and Southgate feels his players in that area are up to the challenge.

"I think when you're coaching a team, you watch everything and you have to decide the most important information for players, not flood them with too much, adapt the game to our strengths and highlight potential weaknesses," Southgate told reporters ahead of England's first major final in 55 years.

 

"Of course there are fantastic players all through the Italy team, they've a good tactical plan, an experienced coach and an amazing record over last 30 games or so, we are very aware of that.

"But players like our two midfielders [Rice and Phillips], they've played beyond their experience in this tournament and they've already played against Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, so they've had to adapt to these midfield players with great European experience and they've done that brilliantly.

"We're different, we have our own strengths, own style of play, which is geared towards the strengths of our players.

"That's the beauty of football, every team has different strengths, we've tried to play to ours and adapt to our strengths and we need to do the same [on Sunday]."

Another Italian double act that has been showered with praise is centre-back pairing Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose combined 33 European Championship appearances is four more than England's entire back five that started the semi-final against Denmark.

While they may not possess the same ball-carrying ease as England's Harry Maguire and John Stones, Chiellini remains a formidable scrapper even at the age of 36, with his 71.4 duels success bettered by only six defenders (involved in 10 or more duels). And Bonucci continues to read the game well, his haul of 12 interceptions being the most of all defenders at Euro 2020.

Together, there is not much they do not possess, and Harry Kane is relishing the chance to go up against them.

"They're two amazing defenders with great experience over their careers of big matches," Kane said.

"I've been fortunate to play against them before, and as a striker I want to play against the best and they're definitely up there."

 

Kane himself has had an intriguing tournament given he was widely criticised for a slow start that saw him fail to score until the knockout phase, yet he now has four heading into the final.

It is a curious change from his performance at the 2018 World Cup, when he scored five in the group and only one in the knockouts, and he suggested that may be by design.

"Obviously don't get me wrong, I'd have loved to have scored three or four in the group and got off to fantastic start and gone from there, but it was more about the energy," he said.

"I felt in the World Cup, it was such an amazing start, scoring in the last minute against Tunisia, a lot of energy after that game was used in terms of the emotion, and then against Panama it was the same, because it was an amazing game and I got a hat-trick.

"Again, there's a lot of talk and mental energy [expended] – Colombia was the same. Not just physically but mentally I felt I just lost a little towards the latter stages, so going into this one with a bit more experience it's about not getting too carried away, whether I score or not.

"Thankfully it's worked out pretty well, but I guess that's part of the learning curve and gaining that experience, hopefully I've enough left to finish the job."

Harry Kane has rejected the suggestion England are too nice ahead of the Euro 2020 final, with Gareth Southgate's squad ready to test their mettle once again after "knocking down barriers" to set up a showdown with Italy.

England will be aiming to win a first major international trophy since the 1966 World Cup, a 55-year-drought during which they have never made it beyond the last four at any tournament.

However, Kane's winner in extra time against Denmark on Wednesday secured a place in this year's European Championship showpiece – and they will have home advantage again when they face the Azzurri at Wembley Stadium.

Southgate and his players have ended the nation's long, at times painful wait to reach another final, but Kane made clear on the eve of the contest that being "humble and respectful" as a group does not suggest they lack the ruthless edge required to get the job done on Sunday.

Asked during his pre-match media duties if England are too nice, he replied: "No, I don't think so

"That's the personality of a lot of the players in the squad, they are humble and respectful, but we have a focus and determination to win, we've shown that in last tournament and this, knocking down barriers that have been there for a long time.

"In modern football there isn't so much mind games before, getting too hyped or out of control.

"We have a real vision of where we want to be and without that and our winning mentality we wouldn't be where we are now."

 

Southgate played for England when they lost in a Euros semi-final to Germany at the old Wembley back in 1996, when the song 'Three Lions' by English comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner became synonymous with the tournament.

The lyrics reference the failures to replicate the success enjoyed by Alf Ramsey's side over West Germany in 1966 and it has remained popular ever since, particularly when the national team are in action at a major event.

While Southgate has mixed emotions towards the song – it was his missed penalty that proved costly in the shoot-out against the Germans 25 years ago – he is delighted with the support his players have received this year.

"I didn't want to listen to it for 15 years because it was too painful for me," Southgate, who confirmed Phil Foden is a doubt to face Italy due to a knock, said to the media.

"You have to know the English to understand our humour and our humour is probably quite unique. It's certainly not arrogant, the lyrics are making fun of ourselves and what's gone wrong before.

"It's always appeared at tournaments, we have a couple of replacements that seem to have come through now, which is nice to move things forward.

"The atmosphere in the ground is great. When we started three four years ago, we had people throwing paper planes, they weren't behind the team and there was an apathy towards the team, but now the energy is fantastic.

"It's so important for the players, they need that warmth and it's definitely helped inspire us in this tournament."

Gareth Southgate and his England squad have the support of Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family heading into their Euro 2020 final against Italy.

England beat Denmark 2-1 after extra-time on Wednesday to book their place in the final of a major tournament for the first time since 1966, the year they won the World Cup at Wembley.

The national stadium is again the venue for England's second final, with Roberto Mancini's Italy side standing in the way of Southgate's men.

Ahead of the fixture, England's manager received a letter of support from the monarch.

"Fifty-five years ago I was fortunate to present the World Cup to Bobby Moore, and saw what it meant to the players, management and support staff to reach and win the final of a major international football tournament," read the letter, addressed to Southgate and shared on England's social media channels.

"I want to send my congratulations and that of my family to you all on reaching the final of the European Championships, and send my good wishes for tomorrow with the hope that history will record not only your success but also the spirit, commitment and pride with which you have conducted yourselves."

Asked about the message in his pre-match news conference, Southgate said: "It's been fantastic to have obviously the letter from the Queen, from the Prime Minister to all the team and the recognition that players and all of the staff have gone about this in the right way.

"We had a fabulous reception with local villages at St George's Park, so you got more a sense of what's going on outside the bubble, but it comes back to tomorrow.

"We are here to win. It's important how we represent people and we are pleased that legacy is there but now we want to go and lift the trophy."

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."

Giorgio Chiellini is relishing coming up against Harry Kane in the final of Euro 2020, with the veteran Italy centre-back claiming he is a huge fan of the England captain.

Kane endured a lacklustre group stage before coming to life in the knockout stages of the tournament.

The Tottenham striker has four goals to his name, leaving him in with a shout for the Golden Boot when Gareth Southgate's men take on the Azzurri in Sunday's final at Wembley.

If Kane is to follow up scooping the same prize at the 2018 World Cup, he will have to get the better of Chiellini and his long-time ally Leonardo Bonucci at the heart of a formidable backline.

Italy had amassed 11 consecutive clean sheets before their 2-1 last-16 win over Austria and such solidity is a huge factor in the 33-match unbeaten run that has left them within touching distance of a first European title since 1968.

The 36-year-old Chiellini addressed a pre-match news conference, recalling his maiden encounter with Kane in 2015 – an international friendly drawn 1-1 in Turin that was a second cap for a striker who now has 60 senior international appearances and 38 goals to his name.

"He's very technical, he shoots well from distance, he's good in the air, he takes free-kicks. He's a player who really impressed me right from day one," the defender explained, before recalling several discussions about Kane with Fabio Paratici – Juventus' former sporting director who recently took on the same role at Spurs.

"I played against him during his time with Tottenham and I am a really big fan of him.

"You can ask Fabio Paratici, he’ll confirm that because we spoke about Kane so much over the last few years.

"Now Fabio Paratici will have the opportunity to work with him at Tottenham and I'll have the 'good fortune' to come up against him tomorrow night.

"It's always nice to play strikers such as these. It will be a tough battle but an exciting one."

 

A possible ploy for England on Sunday would be for Kane to drop off the front and use his ability to thread throughballs for Raheem Sterling, who has scored three goals and provided an assist during a superb individual tournament.

"Everyone has their own attributes. If I try to match him in a footrace, me against Sterling, I don't think I'd ever beat him to the punch," Chiellini said.

"But maybe in situations where there's a ball to be won and it's a slightly more physical 50-50, or a long ball forward from the goalkeeper, I might be more likely to win the header. I need to try and limit their attributes.

"It almost makes me laugh because I think England's bench could have made it to the final on their own because they have some extraordinary players.

"We are going to try to limit their characteristics where we can, but thankfully it's not an individual game, it's a team game.

"It's not necessarily important whether Bonucci and Chiellini can stop Sterling and Kane; it's about whether Italy will beat England."

A noted no-nonsense defensive hardman over the course of his career, Chiellini has adopted a demeanour throughout Euro 2020 that has been at once jovial and somewhat terrifying, perhaps in line with the pre-tournament prescription he repeated on Saturday of Italy needing "just that hint of madness and cool heads".

 

He reacted with delight when a Kevin De Bruyne piledriver stuck him during the 2-1 quarter-final win over Belgium, while his playful jostling with Spain captain Jordi Alba before the semi-final penalty shoot-out was instant meme material.

"I really am savouring every last drop of my career. I've always got a smile on my face and I always try to have the utmost respect for my opponents," Chiellini said.

"I'm trying to hug them, smile, have a bit of a laugh. That's something I've always done and in these games I really am trying to enjoy every single moment, even more than I did in previous years."

On the Alba incident, Chiellini added: "No, it wasn't mind games by any means. That's how I am in good times and bad. My team-mates love me and there might be times when opponents like me less.

"After all these years, I think there is mutual respect between me and my opponents."

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.

 

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