The history of the Italy: why streetwise Azzurri will be formidable in the final of Euro 2020

Giorgio Chiellini
(Image credit: PA Images)

"It's the history of the Tottenham. They miss always something to arrive at the end. We believe in the history."

Giorgio Chiellini always did like Wembley. In 2007, he played in its very first match, as captain of Italy's under 21s. In 2018, he returned with Juventus.

The Bianconeri were the away team against Tottenham, having fluffed a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 in the home leg of a Champions League last 16 tie. Harry Kane had begun the Spurs fightback that night. At Wembley, they then fell 3-2 behind on aggregate.

But Chiellini believed in the history of the Tottenham. Juventus knew how to get the job done, Tottenham didn't, and so it proved. The Italians scored twice in the second half to secure a 4-3 aggregate triumph, prompting the defender's famous post-match quote.

Familiar territory

On Tuesday night, the 36-year-old was back at Wembley once more, this time with Italy at Euro 2020. He'll be there again for the final on Sunday, thanks to another streetwise display on English soil.

The Azzurri weren't at their best against Spain, just as they hadn't been against Austria at Wembley 10 days earlier. But they knew how to get the job done, how to get over the line in the most marginal of circumstances. It's the history of the Italy.

Whoever Italy play on Sunday, be it England or Denmark, that nous will be arguably their biggest advantage. England and Denmark don't have a history of closing out tournaments. They've each done it once, but never again. A lingering fear remains that, ultimately, something might go wrong. It's happened so often before.

Italy don't have that issue. They've won five major tournaments in their history. Winning trophies is nothing new. In 2006, they weren't the favourites to take the World Cup home from Germany. But they clung on in there, produced moments of quality when needed, and were the last team standing. They got the job done.

Fabio Cannavaro

(Image credit: PA Images)

Every player in the current Italian team is old enough to remember that World Cup final. As children, they were shown that glory was possible, that it could be achieved, if you matched quality with hard work and street-smarts.

Against Austria, when the going got surprisingly tough, they dug in, persevered and got over the line. Against Belgium in the quarter final, they performed superbly, erasing any remaining doubts about whether this team was actually good enough to win a tournament. They also employed the dark arts at times, slowing the game down ad nauseam in the closing stages.

Against Spain, they struggled to command possession at times, and even let a lead slip with only 10 minutes to go. But still they kept going. Italy will never give in, not with experienced pros like Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci around.

Coin toss with a difference

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So wily is Chiellini, he even had the nous to use the coin toss for the penalty shoot-out to his advantage. Initially arguing with Spain's stand-in skipper Jordi Alba over which end the spot kicks would be taken at, not only did he then win the toss and take the penalties to the Italian end of the ground, but he even gave the 5ft 7in full back a somewhat patronising hug, which Alba didn't entirely seem to enjoy.

It was friendly enough, but it was alpha male behaviour. Neither Chiellini or Alba actually took a penalty in the shoot-out, but it was an illustration that mentally, Italy knew how to deal with this situation far better than Spain.

After Alvaro Morata crumbled, Jorginho stepped up, and you knew the game was over. Jorginho was simply never going to miss - anyone who's seen him take penalties for Chelsea knew that, and he was every bit as ice cool on this occasion, even in a European Championship semi final.


(Image credit: PA Images)

Italy were eighth favourites with the bookmakers going into this tournament, but it should never be underestimated how much the events of 2017 are a driving force for the Azzurri at these Euros. Back then, they failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.

If it seemed improbable then, it looks ridiculous now. Many of these same players were available then, and yet Italy lost a play-off to Sweden, after finishing second in their qualification group. To Spain.

Last night was payback, and Roberto Mancini's entire reign as manager has been about righting that wrong, putting that embarrassment behind the national team.

Mancini's clear vision

Mancini took over as boss in May 2018, and quickly set Italy away on an unbeaten run that still remains to this day. It now spans an incredible 33 matches. One more game, and the Euros are theirs.

The former Manchester City boss was a shrewd appointment, after the disastrous reign of Gian Piero Ventura. A proven winner as a manager at club level, he's simply transferred his successful formula over to the national team.

His vision has looked defined throughout the tournament - although a couple of injuries have forced changes here and there, his strongest XI has been pretty clear, as has the style of play. Mancini's men have regularly eschewed slow build-up play, preferring to attack at speed, often in transition. With the pace of Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile, no other team has been as dangerous on the counter attack at this tournament.

In Gianluigi Donnarumma, they also have a goalkeeper who is only 22, but will probably become one of the all-time greats in the years to come. He hasn't put a foot or a glove wrong at these Euros, and saved decisively from Morata in the semi-final shoot-out.

Gianluigi Donnarumma

(Image credit: PA Images)

Italy will also surely have a sizeable backing for the final at Wembley. The Italian FA were officially given only 125 tickets for the match against Spain because of coronavirus restrictions, but there were thousands of supporters inside Wembley for the game - many of them already based in the UK.

They outnumbered Spanish fans significantly, and will undoubtedly be out in force on Sunday. Their passion is matched only by the players - every word of the national anthem sung with feeling, as the entire squad swayed to the music. It was a sight to behold.

Italy's 2006 World Cup win was achieved to the sound of The White Stripes' Seven Nation Army, unofficially adopted by the fans then, and still sung at matches at this tournament.

They've also put their own spin on England's Three Lions anthem. "It's coming Rome," Italian fans sung, as they departed Wembley after victory over Spain.

Italy fans

(Image credit: PA Images)

Be in no doubt, Italy have their eyes firmly on hijacking England's party now. Whether they get the chance to do it directly, or whether Denmark do the dirty work for them, remains to be seen.

If the Three Lions do fall short, don't be surprised if Chiellini surmises that it's the history of the England.

Sometimes, history matters, and Italy's history has been dotted with no shortage of success. On Sunday, whoever they play, they will firmly believe they can add to that.

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Chris Flanagan
Senior Staff Writer

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering the World Cup, Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.