CRAIG HOPE: England know Italy's armour is NOT invincible

CRAIG HOPE: Italy’s armour of gladiatorial pair Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci is NOT invincible… Spain did England a favour in weakening Roberto Mancini’s side… and exposed one or two weaknesses!

  • England will be happier playing Italy rather than Spain in the Euro 2020 final 
  • Spain stumbled through the tournament but were dangerous against the Azzurri 
  • Roberto Mancini’s side were made to ‘suffer’ as Spain dominated possession
  • England can’t adopt the same approach but know Italy are not unbeatable 
  • Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci allowed 16 shots on target in the semi
  • The Italians haven’t lost in 33 games, but there is less to fear ahead of the final 
  • Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here

Spain, we reasoned at the start of the week, would be the preferred opponents should England make it to the final. For anyone inside Wembley during Tuesday night’s first semi-final, that opinion has surely changed — it is Italy you would now rather face.

Yes, the same Italy who England last beat in a European Championship or World Cup fixture in 1977. For while Spain may have stumbled through this tournament, they found their feet and used them to remind us why they are so dangerous.

It had been six matches in the making, but they finally unlocked their potential, and in doing so showed England how to unhinge the Italians.

Italy have been one of the teams of Euro 2020 but they have shown they’re not invincible ahead of their final against England

Spain were the better side despite losing the semi-final as they dominated their opponents

If Spain had an attacker who could be relied on to convert chances, they would have won easily. Thankfully, England do have those players.

Because contrary to what we are led to believe about the gladiatorial pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, their armour is not invincible. Spain had 16 shots on goal.

In deploying a fluid front three, they exhausted an Azzurri backline who had hitherto expended more energy during the singing of their national anthem. As Roberto Mancini later admitted following their penalty shootout victory, his side had been made to ‘suffer’.

Gareth Southgate has players who can unhinge the Italians in Sunday’s Wembley final

England will not enjoy the possession of Spain — a purposeful 70 per cent — but they can draw inspiration and blueprints from the fluency of those Spanish attacks.

Pulling Harry Kane out wide or dropping deep — as he did so well against Denmark — and allowing the likes of Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish to buzz around more central areas should cause those old Italian monuments to creak.

Spain demonstrated how movement of ball and personnel is key to unsettling Italy. Mancini’s side were forced to abandon the more attractive style that has won so many admirers in recent weeks. Instead, they donned the grisly masks of old and found a way to win. That, by the way, is also worthy of considerable praise.

Spain showed that with quick movement of the ball and a fluid attack you can hurt Italy


World Cup 2014 group stage, Manaus — England 1 Italy 2 (Sturridge 37; Marchisio 35, Balotelli 50)

The Amazonian heat of Manaus was too much for England in their 2014 opener as Mario Balotelli’s header after the break settled a thrilling match which saw Daniel Sturridge cancel out Claudio Marchisio’s fine opener. TV viewers thought Raheem Sterling had scored when his shot from range rippled the side-netting.

Euro 2012 quarter-final, Kiev — England 0 Italy 0 (Italy win 4-2 on penalties)

A Game remembered for Andrea Pirlo’s silky Panenka penalty, which fooled Joe Hart in the shoot-out after a timid game in Kiev. Ashley Young hit the bar with his penalty, and Ashley Cole saw his saved by Gigi Buffon.

World Cup 1990 third-place play-off, Bari — Italy 2 England 1 (Baggio 71, Schillaci 86 pen; Platt 81)

Roberto Baggio and ‘Toto’ Schillaci scored as Italy took the bronze medal on home soil in Bobby Robson’s last match in charge of England. The Italian squad also featured Carlo Ancelotti, Franco Baresi and a young Paolo Maldini.

Euro 1980 group stage, Turin — England 0 Italy 1 (Tardelli 78)

Marco Tardelli’s late strike settled this match in Turin. Ron Greenwood’s England lacked firepower without Trevor Francis. England failed to qualify for the next round. 

  • Italy are unbeaten in their last 33 matches (W27, D6), scoring 86 goals and conceding just 10. This is a national record.
  • 10 This is Italy’s 10th major tournament final, with only Germany (14) having played more among the European nations. Italy have lost their last two Euro finals (in 2000 and 2012) — only Germany and USSR (three) have finished runners-up more times at the Euros.
  • England have only beaten Italy once in a competitive match, which was a World Cup qualifier in November 1977. Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking scored for Ron Greenwood’s men.
  • Italy boss Roberto Mancini (left) will be just the second manager to have won the English top-flight title to take charge of a European nation in a major tournament final, after Alf Ramsey, who won the English top flight with Ipswich in 1962 before lifting the 1966 World Cup with England.

But could England have done that? The Italians have the muscle memory for such a task. England, you feel, are better served playing their own game rather than adapting to opponents’.

Against Spain, they would have likely ceded the ball and waited for an opportunity on the break, much like Italy did for their goal. England can do that, of course. They showed such patience against Germany.

But in the final match, at the end of a draining four weeks, do you really want to be given the runaround? For to be at the game on Tuesday was to witness one team hitting top gear, and another hastily assembling roadblocks.

Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini admitted his side were made to ‘suffer’ despite beating Spain

The likes of Raheem Sterling (L) and Bukayo Saka (R) can cause the Italian monuments to creak

Italy’s success during these finals has been built on intensity. That ferocity was there at kick-off, but it faded with each Spanish pass. They dug so deep in taking the tie the distance, you wonder how many of their players will emerge from the hole come Sunday’s final.

Spain did England a favour in weakening Italy, and at the same time exposing one or two weaknesses. For all of that, they are unbeaten in 33 matches. If they cannot win, they do not lose. No-one is saying it will be easy, but perhaps there is less to fear than a few days ago.

By contrast, Spain were frighteningly good. They looked as if they were coming to the boil, and England could well have been burnt.

Now, however, Gareth Southgate and his players must pour cold water on the notion that Italy are unbeatable. Do that and it will be they who no team wants to face. 

Defenders Leonardo Bonucci (L) and Giorgio Chiellini (R) have been painted as gladiators but they allowed 16 shots on target in the semi-final against Spain

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