England will face Italy in the final of Euro 2020 on Sunday, knowing victory will earn them a first major tournament triumph for 55 years, but to do so they’ll have to overcome a side they’ve only beaten once before in a competitive fixture.
On a night of nerve-shredding tension, and then unconfined joy, Gareth Southgate’s side beat Denmark 2-1 in front of 60,000 ecstatic England fans at Wembley on Wednesday, to reach their first-ever European Championship final.
Captain Harry Kane hit the winner in extra time to book a place against the Azzurri at Wembley and if England win, it will be their first major tournament victory since winning the World Cup in 1966.
But they will face an opponent who they have a poor record against in major finals, having twice been beaten by Italy at the Euros and World Cup.
Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but they have been on the rise since former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini took charge in 2018.
They head into Sunday’s final unbeaten in 33 matches and have been gathering momentum throughout Euro 2020 since their opening win against Turkey.
After overcoming Belgium, ranked number one in the world, and then, in the semi-finals, three-time European champions Spain, they will fear no-one.
Their team includes veteran defenders Giorgio Chiellini, 36, and Leonardo Bonucci, 34, who have both impressed during the tournament.
As well as experience on the field, Sunday will be the Azzurri’s 10th major tournament final, and their fourth European Championship final against a side who have not beaten them in competition football since 1977.
The first competitive match-up between England and Italy was a World Cup qualifier in 1976 as Don Revie’s England travelled to the Olympic Stadium in Rome, top of Group 2 after two wins against Finland.
More than 70,000 were crammed in to see Giancarlo Antognoni’s 20-yard shot and Roberto Bettega’s diving header see off England, though the score flattered Revie’s men, who were outplayed, outpassed and outthought from the start.
12-months later and it was England that took the spoils with a 2-0 win as Kevin Keegan converted Trevor Brooking’s cross to open the scoring before the West Ham hitman made it two, though Italy eventually topped the group on goal difference.
The first time these two met at major tournament finals was at the 1980 European Championships when Marco Tardelli struck the only goal as Italy won 1-0 to set up a winner-takes-all encounter against Belgium.
Ten years later and England’s reward for narrowly missing out on a World Cup final at Italy ’90 was another meeting with Italy, this time in the Third Place play-off game in Turin.
David Platt responded to Italian Roberto Baggio putting his side in front before the tournament’s eventual top scorer, Toto Schillaci, then scored the winner with his sixth goal of the World Cup with a penalty conceded by Paul Parker.
During qualification for the 1998 World Cup, Italy inflicted the first defeat of former England manager Glenn Hoddle’s tenure with a solitary one gaol victory as Chelsea forward Gianfranco Zola scored the winner after 18 minutes with goalkeeper Ian Walker being heavily blamed for letting in the decisive strike
That win meant that England needed a draw to qualify outright for France 98 and send Italy into a play-off when they travelled to Rome after Italy had drawn with Poland and Georgia – meaning England required just a point to seal qualification.
So it was backs-to-the-wall stuff for Glenn Hoddle’s England who clinched the point needed thanks to the bravery of Paul Ince playing with his head split open and sporting a blood-soaked shirt.
When England faced Italy in Kiev in the 2012 Euros, they battled manfully to preserve a stalemate at the end of extra time – but after that, it was the same old penalty story.
Another in the almost-endless stream of English penalty shoot-out defeats, this time Roy Hodgson’s side were floored by Andrea Pirlo’s impudent Panenka spot-kick to crash out of the competition at the quarter-final stage.
The last time these two met at a major tournament, Mario Balotelli bagged the winner after Daniel Sturridge had cancelled out Claudio Marchisio’s opener before Balotelli intervened.
But one week later England exited a World Cup at the group stages for the first time since 1958 with manager Roy Hodgson claiming it was a “very, very bitter pill” for England to swallow.
That defeat means that going into Sunday’s Euro 2020 final England’s record against Italy is pretty poor.
The two teams have crossed paths on 27 occasions and the Three Lions have won just eight times – Italy winning 11 while eight games have ended in a draw while, since the turn of the century, England have beaten Italy just once in seven games
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