IIf Italy had the chance to get rid of an opposition player ahead of the Euro 2020 final, they would choose the 12th man: the more than 50,000 English fans who are expected to attend the game at Wembley.
“In a neutral stadium, I would have chosen Italy to win hands down,” said Beppe Bergomi, 57. The former Inter FC defender helped Italy to their third World Cup victory in 1982 at the age of 18 and is today one of the country’s most famous television commentators. “But it’s different at Wembley,” he added. “Wembley is a whole different story. “
Bergomi knows the dangers all too well. In 1989, he asked the coach of the national team, Azeglio Vicini, to organize a friendly match there, a stadium which was missing from his long list of pitches.
“It was my dream,” says Bergomi. “In my football career until then, I had never had the opportunity to play there. Vicini mentioned it to the Italian Football Federation and they agreed. The match was drawn, 0-0. It was an amazing experience. You can smell the legendary smell of football in this arena. I have always been fascinated by English football. My heroes were Liverpool and Kevin Keegan.
The Italians know the final won’t be a walk in the park – even as preparations for the match were underway, the country’s federation had to deal with a last-minute problem. Three members of the public broadcaster Rai’s television crew, including a reporter following the Italian national team in London, tested positive for Covid on Friday, causing panic and prompting football authorities to cancel the press conference in face to face on Friday with the Azzurri.
But the mood of the country is in good shape. Squares and streets across Italy are filled with the red, white and green of the Italian tricolor, draped over balconies or worn over the shoulders of people riding scooters – a level of enthusiasm that has not been seen in Italy since the team won the 2006 World Cup. Italian fans recall Bergomi’s live television coverage of this tournament with commentator Fabio Caressa, who after Italy’s victory over France on penalties, shouted “World Champions!” Four times. », Corresponding to the number of World Cups won by Azzurri.
Bergomi was a solid defender, not sighted but physically strong, athletic and with an exuberant competitive spirit, perhaps like the England squad that Italy will face at Wembley. “England are a good team,” said Bergomi. “Not pretty, not a gracious team to look at, but polite and strong. They know when to hit, they have a solid midfield and they make good use of their speed on the sidelines.
“They only allowed one goal, which clearly shows that it will be difficult to score. They have exceptional playmakers and a brilliant striker, Harry Kane. But in my opinion, the real leader of the team is Harry Maguire. Can’t say he deserved what Manchester United spent to acquire him [£80m], but he’s a good player and physically strong ”.
The Italian press, who praised the England squad’s spectacular abilities at the tournament, were quick to fire on how Raheem Sterling won a controversial semi-final penalty with Denmark. The Gazzetta dello Sport, the country’s leading sports newspaper, in a lengthy article – later removed from its website without explanation – raised unfounded suspicion that UEFA is backing England for the final to please Boris Johnson after his opposition to the project of Super League. The article suggested that the sanction imposed on England was a sign of UEFA’s support.
“There has been a lot of controversy over this penalty and the possibility of favoritism towards England,” said Bergomi. “It’s not acceptable. We must not think of these things, we must not believe that UEFA has a grand design. Italy must focus their attention on the game. Our team have played brilliantly so far, and since Roberto Mancini took the reins as manager, I have felt a particular energy that is difficult to explain.
“There is no doubt that on Sunday we will have a stadium to face, full of English fans. But let’s not forget, ”Bergomi adds,“ that English players will be under enormous pressure at Wembley, as their fans will expect nothing less than a victory. “
As the opening whistle approaches, the fate of Italy and England is in the hands of Wembley. The dreaded 12th man could prove to be a wild card for both teams.