3 things we learned: England v. Italy, EURO 2020 final

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·7 min read
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Italy are champions of Europe after coming from behind in regular-time, as well as the penalty shootout, to beat England in the EURO 2020 final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

[ MORE: EURO 2020 hub ]

Sunday’s triumph marks Italy’s first European triumph since claiming continental superiority in 1968, and their first major trophy since lifting the 2006 World Cup.

Luke Shaw opened the scoring before many viewers around the world had even settled in for the start of the game and England looked well on their way to bringing football home, but Italy equalized through Leonardo Bonucci at the midway point of the second half.

England went ahead early in the shootout as well, but England failed to convert on three straight attempts — two saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma and one hit off the post — in rounds 3-5.

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Three things we learned: England – Italy

1. Southgate switches tactics to great success… for a time: There’s conviction and self-belief, and then there’s conviction and self-belief to the point of switching your tactics and formation as you lead your nation into its first final appearance in 55 years. Southgate did all of the above, and it was a genuine stroke of genius on his part… for 45 minutes. Just as he did to overcome Germany in the round of 16, Southgate opted for three center backs with Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw as wing backs tasked with providing the width to England’s attack and forcing Italy’s wide attackers — their biggest stars in Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa — to not only track back defensively, but also to beat three men in white shirts, rather than two, just to have a sight of goal. Through 45 minutes, the duo combined for three shots (all from 30 yards and longer) and three touches inside the penalty area (all along the left perimeter of the penalty area, posing little to no danger). The degree to which England’s five defenders ushered them into cul de sacs and rendered them ineffective was truly remarkable.

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2. Kane’s influence, Spinazzola’s absence: Harry Kane had 24 touches in the first half (4th-most for an England player), but had just 12 in the second half as Italy took the baton and controlled the game, and 8 more in extra-time. Those numbers are right on par with his prior outings at EURO 2020, but the splits between first and half tell much of the story of the game for England (as discussed thoroughly in PST’s tactical preview). Kane’s first attempt on goal came in the penalty shootout, when he converted England’s first attempt from the spot. On the other side, the absence of Leonardo Spinazzola hindered the Italian attack (for 45 minutes) and made life rather simple for England’s defenders, as was also the case for Spain in the semifinal. This was also discussed at length in PST’s tactical preview, which remains relevant even now. Roberto Mancini did, however, have a work-around…

3. Berardi changed the game off the bench: Ciro Immobile had all of one touch inside 30 yards of goal in his 55-minute shift. His immobility — no pun intended, of course — hamstrung Italy and was the other half of the equation which afforded England a training session-like 45 minutes of defending to begin the game. Then came the introduction of Domenico Berardi as Mancini went without a recognized center forward and instead gave Insigne, Chiesa and Berardi the freedom to float and interchange as they saw fit. Suddenly, the England backline had to track and hand off runners from various areas and angles, and they struggled. The tide was well and truly turned, and the majority of the half was played in England’s half, eventually resulting in the equalizing goal.

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Man of the match: Federico Chiesa – No goals or assists to speak of for Chiesa, but he was the singular source of danger for Italy in a tight affair where no one stood head and shoulders above the rest.

England – Italy recap

Fewer than 120 seconds went by before England broke through and put the onus on Italy to chase the game for 88 minutes. An Italian corner kick was cleared at one end, thus setting Trippier down the right flank and Shaw up the left. Trippier’s cross was picturesque, and Shaw didn’t try to do too much with the finish (WATCH HERE – VIDEO).

Italy’s first moment of danger didn’t come until the 35th minute, but it nearly drew the Azzurri level as Federico Chiesa struck a low laser a foot wide of the post. Chiesa got on the ball at midfield and surged straight ahead before firing from outside the box, and Jordan Pickford rooted in place without a hope in the world of making the save, if only it was on target.

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Italy began the second half much better than they did the first, with Insigne getting on the ball in central positions and winning a free kick 22 yards out in the 50th minute. The diminutive Napoli winger curled a free kick a foot wide of Pickford’s left-hand post in a massive let-off for England.

Insigne forced Pickford to make a very difficult reaction save from close range in the 57th minute, as he weaved his way past a pair of defenders to the end line. It was a tight angle that made it difficult to put the ball past Pickford, but would have gone off the goalkeeper and into the net with even the slightest wrong touch.

The Italian pressure intensified in the 62nd minute, yet Pickford stood tall — or laid out flat, as it were — to make another fantastic save to deny Chiesa, who had cut in from the left and curled a low shot toward the far post. With the ball coming through a sea of legs, Pickford didn’t see it off Chiesa’s foot but reacted brilliantly nonetheless.

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Finally, with 67 minutes on the clock, Pickford was beaten. It was anything but pretty and well-worked as the ball pinged around the six-yard box from a corner kick, and Pickford didn’t cover himself in glory as he pushed a tame shot onto the post rather than away from danger, putting it on a silver platter for Bonucci to sweep home.

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The first half-chance of extra-time didn’t come until the 107th minute, when Federico Bernardeschi rifled a 30-yard free kick right at Pickford. The shot’s half-chance status was only earned when Pickford initially spilled the ball a few yards away before jumping on it as the blue shirts closed in.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka — three of England’s brightest stars of the future — were the ones who couldn’t beat Donnarumma, with Saka having the decisive spot kick saved after Pickford gave England a second life with a stop against penalty extraordinaire Jorginho in in the fifth round.

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3 things we learned: England v. Italy, EURO 2020 final originally appeared on NBCSports.com