The Final Countdown
As a far too seasoned Serie A watcher and commentator, the questions from English friends are already starting to flood in. “Who do I fancy for the final?” and “what can I tell them about Italy?” form the basis of most of them, and I must confess that I’m torn, short of saying that it’s a lovely place to go on holiday.
It’s one of those odd betting situations in which logic absolutely tells me one thing, and yet that strange sense of fatalism, which can be so dangerous for bettors, tells me another.
In short, I’m pretty sure that Italy should be comfortably good enough to win Euro 2020, but I have a funny feeling about England. Solid logic versus ill-founded hunch. Which do you follow?
Reasons for supporting Italy
I have watched plenty of Italy and England at the tournament, without seeing every single minute, and of course biases can creep in at any point, but my general sense of things is that Italy are the better side. They are excellent tactically, really clever, and I think that they have that over England, who can start to look a little predictable, especially when they’re unable to dictate the play. When the pressure is on, that regimented tutelage in those brutal Italian academies could well carry them through.
Italy have certainly beaten better opposition at Euro 2020, and a knockout path that featured a spirited Austria, a high-class Belgium and then an inspired Spain is one that took some negotiating. They looked leg weary towards the end of that semi, but have had a day longer to recover, and far fewer distractions.
Italy have got this far because of their tenacity and their class, and have always found something when it has been needed. It’s the sign of a team that is on a long unbeaten run, one that will not be affected at all by the occasion. They are 3.185/40 to win in 90 minutes, and 2.111/10 to win the trophy. That looks a price to me, based on a brilliant Italian midfield, good enough goalscorers, and that winning habit.
Reasons to back England
In my tournament preview of Group A, the one in which I tipped Turkey as a tournament dark horse, and completely overlooked Switzerland, I said that Italy’s creaking defence would be their weak point. They were close to being exposed against Spain, as the movement of Dani Olmo and Alvaro Morata dragged them back into that semi-final, but the Azzurri held on very deliberately for penalties, and trusted their technique.
They will be severely tested by England’s front four, and they will miss Leonardo Spinazzola, the left back who made such an impression in the early stages of the tournament.
Can Bonucci and Chiellini deal with Harry Kane and those youthful runners around him? If they can, then Italy win for sure, but it’s a gigantic “if”.
The two creaking centre halves will need help from those in front of them, and Jorginho and the undisciplined Marco Verratti will have their hands full, with Nicolo Barella likely to be involved at both ends. And he is one of the players who have come up with a key goal at a key moment, to help cover up Italy’s lack of a prolific striker in the Kane mould.
Ciro Immobile is a wonderful club player, but his style doesn’t suit international football, and I’m not surprised by the rumours that his great friend Andrea Belotti seems likely to be selected as a battering ram for the final. If Italy are to score, then it’s those support strikers who are the men most likely. Chiesa, Insigne, even Barella.
You’ll know the England players well, and those of you who have been paying attention for the last month or so will know plenty about the Italian team, but I thought that it might be useful to come up with a team combining players from both sides and explain why. I would go with something like this, in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
GK: Gigio DONNARUMMA – a little overrated, and trading at 2.245/4 to be Young Player of the Tournament, but significantly better than Jordan Pickford, whose kicking has started to look a major worry.
RB: Kyle WALKER – wins over Giovanni DI LORENZO, who has a wonderful backstory, and is a good defender, but is limited.
LB: Luke SHAW – would have been Spinazzola, can’t be now. Big miss for Italy, but maybe not quite as big as the pundits would have us believe.
CB: I could go with any two of the four in all honesty, but will settle on John STONES and Giorgio CHIELLINI. Leo Bonucci isn’t dealing with the ageing process as well as Chiellini, and isn’t as aware of his limitations, while Harry Maguire always looks moments away from an error. It’s close, though, tomorrow I might go the other way.
MF: JORGINHO and Nicolo BARELLA: This is Italy’s dominant area, and you can add Marco Verratti to make a midfield three which could be England’s biggest problem. They are so tactically astute, so smart, and Barella is so dynamic that I think that England will struggle to contain them. I’d play Jordan Henderson in there for one of Rice or Phillips, as his experience and nous would be a huge bonus.
RF: Raheem STERLING: I want to pick both teams’ right sided players as we get onto where England’s big advantages lie. Sterling has been outstanding, and much though I love Lorenzo Insigne (who plays on the left, I know), the England man wins this battle.
LF: Federico CHIESA: This has been his coming of age season, his coming of age tournament. The stunning goal against Spain in the semi-final was nearly his Tardelli moment. He could well have another lying in wait in the final, and if there’s a penalty to be won, then he’s your man.
CF: Jadon SANCHO and Harry KANE: I have to get Sancho into my team, and can’t understand why he isn’t a certain starter for Gareth Southgate. And Kane is the one player who you could play the “swap” game with. If Kane and Immobile swapped nationalities, would Italy be favourites and England not even in the final? Probably.
That’s five Italians and six English players, with Donnarumma, Shaw, Barella, Jorginho, Kane and Sancho the unarguable ones in my book. It’s that English attacking flair against the Italian midfield dynamism with two less than convincing backlines. Jeez, it’s a tough one to call.
The make up of my combined team would suggest that I favour England, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if they won (they’re at home, after all), my pick at the prices would be Italy in normal time at 3.185/40. That looks too big for a high-class side that is on a tremendous winning run.
I’m interested in Verratti (remember that Nigel De Jong bet at the 2010 World Cup Final?) to be booked at any time at 2.747/4 as he is a marked man, will be under pressure, and has frequently shown a lack of discipline. I’m aware of how short that price looks, but De Jong was shorter in 2010, and obliged.
England finally conceded against Denmark, and could have let in another, while Italy’s Quarter and Semi Finals both involved both teams scoring. I think “Yes” to that eventuality in the Final 2.26/5 could be the best bet of all. There’s a perception that finals are always dull and cagey, but 4-2 in Moscow three years ago rather puts paid to that thought.
Enjoy it, anyway. It’s either home or Rome, as the saying goes. While we’re on sayings, may the best team win, and if that turns out to be the case, then I suspect it will be Italy.