Wembley Stadium will once again be at 75% of its capacity with 60,000 fans, as England seek their first ever Euro trophyEsmé Kenney

Today’s the day. After a predominantly solid and assured campaign, scoring ten goals and conceding just the one, England are set to play in their first major tournament final in 55 years. *That song* is on the radio. Wembley Way beckons. The Queen has even wished Gareth & Co well. And now, we thought we’d get in on some of the prediction action at Varsity and provide our thoughts ahead of the monumental game: please, please don’t let this backfire.

Jack Wadding (Correspondent):

“Finals are to be won.” Gareth Southgate’s words sum up the opportunity perfectly. This is knockout football and, after three group games and three knockouts each, Italy and England find themselves 90 (or 120) minutes away from a trophy. Italy may well be the greatest challenge England have faced this tournament but, over the course of a single game, anything can happen. In the past, this would have been a terrifying proposition: a final against an in-form, prestigious European side. But this isn’t like the past. Since England beat Germany, the confidence of the nation in the side has sky-rocketed. And justifiably so. This year is different. For over half a century, the Three Lions have always fallen at the last hurdle, in 1990, 1996 and 2018. But now we’re there.

England’s 2021 squad has been mightily impressive. A significant number of new introductions, including Phillips and Foden against Croatia, Saka against the Czech Republic and Grealish with his multiple substitute appearances, have certainly passed the eye test. But England have produced some equally impressive statistics. Their defence, for example, is record breaking: Jordan Pickford’s 726 minutes without conceding a goal surpasses Gordon Banks’ 720, a record which precisely spans the infamous ‘years of hurt’. Furthermore, as a unit, the defence have recorded the lowest xG conceded per game (0.6) of all the 24 teams at Euro 2020, proving that Pickford has been well looked after by restricting chance creation. So, despite pre-tournament doubts, Maguire’s ankle injury and Pickford’s shaky display on Wednesday, the defence has proven itself to be successful this tournament. While, on the basis of England’s three group games, it seemed as though the attack might struggle to match this, the knockout games have multiplied England’s goal tally five-fold, as Kane has found his form and relationships have developed, like that between Sterling and Shaw down the left wing. So perhaps Rio Ferdinand is justified in his confidence that it really will come home on Sunday.

But there’s still that niggling feeling that England might bottle it, as they have done so many times before. Granted, Italy are the best side England will play at this tournament but, as Southgate’s men have grown into the tournament, it appears that the Azzurri are beginning to drag their feet. During the group stages, very few people would have bet against Italy, having put three past both Turkey and Switzerland. However, it must be noted, Roberto Mancini’s side struggled against Austria and, according to the expected goals stats, were fortunate against Belgium and Spain. Ultimately, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime for the England men’s side. And there’s no reason why they won’t take it.

Prediction: Italy 1-2 England

Liam Kline (Staff Writer):

Writing this before the big day of the final, it’s safe to say that most England fans are a bag of nerves, even if Baddiel and Skinner are playing on repeat. Despite strong performances throughout the course of the knockout stages, Southgate’s men find themselves in a major tournament final for the first time since the sensational moment of 1966. Returning to 2021, you cannot help but draw comparisons to 55 years ago: the same location, indistinguishable levels of excitement and even similar weather conditions. Perhaps the last one may be taking it a bit too far, but there’s no denying that history plays a massive role in driving the buzz of England’s supporters. As for the players, however, it’s key that level-headedness prevails on the pitch. On the surface, it looks as if psychological baggage permeates the squad, from the gaffer’s heartbreaking penalty miss in Euro ’96 to a tough semi-final defeat against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup. Yet, this England setup looks to have buried these frustrations, working closely with psychologists to triumph over the mental side of football. It goes without saying that the team has technical ability in abundance and recent results speak for themselves, but the real test lies in the mind of everyone involved in the squad.

Occupying the other half of the pitch will be an Italian squad that boasts a far more illustrious record on the international stage. Four-time World Cup winners and seasoned European performers, Mancini’s men will have extended history on their side, but certainly not recent history. Failing to even book plane tickets to Russia back in 2017, Mancini took control of a team that was marked by embarrassment and dejection. Since then, the side has cultivated a 33-game unbeaten run, conceding only ten goals in this time. Centre-back partners Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have proven that Italian defenders age like a fine wine, while the towering figure of Gianluigi Donnarumma in the net makes it easy to forget that he’s only 22 years old. Further up the field, the counter-attacking threats of Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne will prove a challenge for England’s track-proven defence.

In what will be a game of fine margins and high stakes, England certainly has the skill and manpower to go head-to-head with the Azzurri, meaning that seeing Harry Kane lift the trophy will be a question of mental resolve.

Prediction: Italy 1-2 England (AET)

Cameron White (Sport Editor):

To be honest, part of my excitement going into tonight’s final is the knowledge that the Three Lions and Southgate You’re The One dust will soon settle as the cliché circus of many of the tournament’s triumphant narratives packs up. Sorry to be pessimistic, but give me World in Motion any day of the week. Or Shout for England. Or even nails on a chalkboard.

However, I’m a little more optimistic when it comes to tonight’s match. Sure, we’ve established Italy’s 33-game unbeaten run, their national shame on missing out on Russia in 2018, and perhaps their fortune in grinding results out in their Euro 2020 quarter-final and semi-final. On the one hand, the Azzurri look frighteningly dynamic on the counter, as seen against Spain (06/07) when Donnarumma rolled out the ball to be picked up by Marco Verratti on the left, tearing down the Spanish flank before the ball eventually found itself in the bottom right of the net after a composed Chiesa curler.

The Danish attack tired in extra-time in Wednesday night’s semi-final (07/07) and failed to punish a mostly dominant England, who in turn could have been more clinical, Sterling run after Sterling run. For me, Italy’s ability to acrobatically dance the ball through defences is a deep concern, and we will simply have to recreate and go one better than the back-three defensive performance which so robustly dampened any attempt at a German offensive flicker in the Round of 16 (let’s gloss over that Muller v Pickford one-on-one).

However, I can’t criticise England’s clinical nature too much, given Kane’s creative ability which saw him thread a ball through the eye of a needle to Saka for the equaliser on Wednesday. Provided we don’t mess around with too much keep-ball (mature for some, puerile and perilous for me), and Shaw, Grealish and Kane continue to harness their playmaking glory, then I am confident that we can apply enough pressure to eventually break down the Azzurri in front of a roaring Wembley home crowd. While it will be a tight affair, most likely with a goal a piece in normal time, we saw how Spain went at Italy, and I think we can channel our similar play against Denmark, with twenty shots and ten on target, to seal the deal in extra-time.

Prediction: Italy 1-2 England (AET)