An expectant nation will have all eyes firmly set on Wembley when England tackle Italy in the final of Euro 2020 on Sunday night.
While the country has allowed itself to dream of football finally coming home and emulating the World Cup triumph of 1966, England manager Gareth Southgate remains determined to stay focused on the job in hand.
The Queen has wished the Three Lions well, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson also penned a personal note to Southgate and his squad, who were FaceTimed by Hollywood A-lister Tom Cruise.
From his own painful experience at Euro 96, Southgate knows just what success against Italy would mean after 55 years of reflecting on all of those ‘oh-so-nears’.
“We had a fabulous reception when we left St George’s. All the local villages had come out, lining the route,” Southgate said.
“People pulled over in lay-bys so you got more of a sense of what’s gone on outside of the bubble that we’ve been in.
“It’s important how we’ve represented people and we’re pleased that legacy has been there – but now we want to go and win the trophy for everybody.”
Since taking over following Italy’s failure to reach the 2018 World Cup, Roberto Mancini has slowly but surely transformed the Azzurri into a well-drilled unit.
Having beaten Spain on penalties in their semi-final, Italy are now undefeated in 33 games.
Reaching 34, though, could yet prove to be the toughest test yet of how far his team have come – and can go on the road towards Qatar 2022.
“England are a strong team. They have some brilliant players and a lot of depth, but the fact that we have reached this point, means we are a strong side too,” said the former Manchester City boss.
“We must be concentrated on our football and understand it is the final hurdle.”
Mancini added: “I really hope that I can enjoy an experience that I did not during my playing career, despite the fact I played in some wonderful Italy teams.”
Manchester City playmaker Phil Foden faces an anxious wait to see if he will be fit for selection against Italy. The 21-year-old, who came off the bench to provide fresh legs during extra time of the semi-final win over Denmark, missed training on Saturday morning at St George’s Park with a foot problem and will continue to be monitored as Southgate fine-tunes his plans for Sunday evening.
Even after receiving a personal note from the Queen and the PM, as good luck messages go having a chat with a Hollywood A-lister is close to top billing. England skipper Harry Kane revealed Tom Cruise had been among the well-wishers to get in touch ahead of Sunday’s final. “We were fortunate enough to have a watch one of his films, so I think he was over here in the UK and he just dialled in and FaceTimed us just to wish us the best as a group, so that was nice of him,” Kane said. England fans will be hoping a Few Good Men can make All the Right Moves at Wembley – and that it does not turn out to be Mission: Impossible against Italy.
It’s about doing what we have done, doing what we have learned over the last four or five years as a group, being calm in moments and then kind of being ruthless in moments as wellEngland captain Harry Kane
England’s youthful frontline are expected to stretch Italy’s veteran Juventus central defensive partnership of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci at Wembley. Azzurri captain Chiellini, though, reckons Southgate’s squad has enough talent to fill two teams which would have given anyone a run for their money at Euro 2020. He said: “It almost makes me laugh because I think England’s bench could probably have made it to the final on their own because they have some extraordinary players.”
While there may be no official ‘Golden Glove’ award at Euro 2020, England number one Jordan Pickford has enjoyed a standout tournament. The Everton stopper has the returned most clean sheets with five, and conceded just once when Mikkel Damsgaard’s stunning 25-yard free-kick put Denmark ahead in the semi-final. Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma has let in three so far – a statistic which England supporters packed into Wembley will be hoping has gone up a notch or two at the final whistle.
Italy v England (final, July 11, Wembley, 2000 BST)