The Euro 2020 is finally down to the last teams standing, after a knife edge semifinal round.
England and Italy will do battle to crown the European champion on Sunday, 10 pm East African time, in Wembley stadium, London.
|Italy 1-1 Spain (Italy won 4-2 on penalties)|
|England 2-1 Denmark (after extra time)|
Italy vs Spain
Italy and Spain played out the best game of the European championship so far. In a game that Spain dominated territory, possession and chances created, Italy took the lead in the hour mark thanks to Dominic Chiesa cutting inside from the left side of the penalty area to curl a beautiful shot past Spanish goalkeeper Unai Simon.
Spain would equalize in the 80th minute, with substitute Álvaro Morata finishing off a world class team goal that he started and finished off a beautiful through ball from exciting Spanish youngster Dani Olmo.
The game ended level in normal and extra time, and Italy won the penalty shootout comfortably as Dani Olmo and Álvaro Morata both missed their chances.
Spain will feel they were the better team all through, but Italy seemed more mentally strong, experienced and advanced in a lucky fashion.
England vs Denmark
England took on surprise story Denmark, who has gotten to the semis of the European championship for only the second time in their history, and the first time since 1992, when they won the competition.
England were comfortably the better team in majority of the game played on Wednesday, July 7, but Denmark took the lead in the half hour mark through Mikkel Damsgaard, who scored a brilliant direct free kick.
England continued to push on and equalized in the nine minutes later, after Arsenal star Bukayo Saka crossed the ball from the right wing that Danish defender Simon Kjaer could only direct into his goal for an own goal, the 12th of the tournament. England was always the team likely to win the game, but they couldn’t score another goal in normal time.
In the 103rd minute of the game, deep into extra time, Raheem Sterling fell down in the penalty box and the referee awarded a dubious penalty.
England captain Harry Kane missed the penalty, but Kasper Schmeichel punched the ball back to him and Kane slotted in the rebound. England was very lucky, but looking at the possession, territory, chances created and the way the game was played out, the better team definitely advanced.
The final two are thus set. England and Italy will square off in the final of the European championship for the first time ever. The last time the two teams met in the Euros was in 2012 at the semifinals stage.
The game ended 0-0 after normal and extra time, and Italy won 4-2 on penalties. You can watch the penalty highlights here, if only to see Andrea Pirlo’s astonishing panenka penalty over a boisterous and overconfident Joe hart.
Italy and England have been two of the best teams in the competition. Italy have dominated ever game they have played, except the semifinal where Spain were by far the better team but couldn’t convert their chances.
Italy has a superior midfield, with Marco Veratti, Locatelli, Nicola Barella, Jorginho and Pessina all great technical players with exceptional technique and tactical versatility.
In defense, Italy have a great centre back pairing of Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci, who have played hundreds of games together and will be confident in facing Harry Kane.
Italy’s weakness is in left back, where Emerson plays in place of Spinazzola who was injured in the semifinal, and striker, where Ciro Immobile has only scored one goal and failed to convince me he is capable of troubling an England defense that has conceded only one goal all tournament.
England has a solid ‘Manchester-made’ defense, marshaled by Harry Maguire and John Stones, with Luke Shaw and speedy right back Kyle walker on the flanks.
Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford has been excellent at the back, but his kicking is sometimes error prone. England has a solid midfield of Kalvin Phillips and Declan rice that protect the defense so well, but don’t offer much in attack.
England’s strongest department is in attacking midfield. Raheem sterling has been brilliant all tournament, creating and scoring chances more than any other teammate.
He will be confident of getting the better of Emerson on the right wing. Harry Kane, Mason Mount and Bukayo Saka are the other options to start, all brilliant footballers capable of scoring at any moment, and Jack Grealish and Phil Foden on the sub bench ready to come in to offer fresh legs in attack.
I expect Italy to dominate the possession, but England will be confident of silencing Italy striker Ciro Immobile.
Key duels will be on the wings, both teams have tricky wingers who can cut inside and score great goals. Lorenzo Insigne versus Kyle walker, Dominic Chiesa vs Luke Shaw, and Raheem Sterling against Emerson on the other side for England will be vital to the game’s outcome.
Whichever winger comes out on top of their duel, will probably give their team the victory. I predict a cagey 2-1 win for the Italians, but wouldn’t be surprised if the game went to penalties.
As I said before the semifinals, no team has ever won two penalty shootouts in a European championship. Italy will be desperate to win this game in normal time. Join me here for the Maudhui league for the final game of the tournament, a league I have really enjoyed playing.