Hear ye, hear ye! Y’all listen up! I have not been focused on soccer like I usually am during the summer, because my Phoenix Suns have been in the midst of a run to the NBA title. However, the final of Euro 2020 is on ESPN and Univision this Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. Central Time, which means I have another conversation with my idiot friend who’s always on hand to ask stupid questions such as:
What’s Euro 2020?
It’s the soccer tournament that Europe stages every Summer Olympic year for its national teams, so there’s no USA here and no Brazil. Because Europe is so stacked with good teams, it’s reputed to be an even harder tournament to win than the World Cup. Despite this, with fewer teams contesting it, more countries outside the ranks of established soccer powerhouses have won the Euro than the World Cup in the past: Denmark in 1992, Greece in 2004, Portugal in 2016.
Hasn’t 2020 been over for, like, six months now?
Very observant of you! It has, but the tournament is still called Euro 2020, just as the upcoming Olympics also still bears the name of the past year after both sports events were postponed by the pandemic. It’s silly, but that’s what they’re doing.
Who’s in the final?
After making the World Cup semis in 2018, England got revenge on the team that eliminated them and beat Croatia in the group stages, along with Czech Republic. They could only manage a goalless draw with Scotland, and the Scots must have enjoyed taking points in the standings off their rivals. In the knockout stages, the Three Lions vanquished a surprisingly underwhelming Germany, knocked four goals past Ukraine, and came back to defeat a plucky Denmark team, which everyone was rooting for after star player Christian Eriksen suffered a heart attack on the pitch during the team’s opening game. (He did survive. It’s a question whether he will play again.) England will face Italy, which smashed Turkey and Switzerland in the group stages before eking past Wales. In the group stages, the Azzurri needed extra time to see off Austria but then upset tournament favorites Belgium and edged past Spain on penalty kicks.
Where is the final being played?
Wembley Stadium in London. The Euros are usually hosted by one country, but when this tournament was planned back in 2012, the organizers thought it would be nice to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Euros by holding games in cities throughout Europe. That plan held, although Brussels and Dublin had to be replaced as hosts due to COVID restrictions. The final match was always slated for Wembley, so England having home-field advantage for the final is like an NFL team reaching a Super Bowl that it’s scheduled to host. It doesn’t happen often.
What should we expect from England?
This is an extensively retooled version of the team that we saw in 2018, especially on the offensive end. Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane are still leading the line, the former with his speed and creativity, the latter with his finishing and ability to bring his teammates into the play. Behind them, there’s still Jordan Henderson, with his physical presence and skills on the ball. However, the main playmakers are a set of new guys: Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho are two who fit the new mold of creators who dribble the ball at defenders, making passes and opening up space while they’re running at you. Meanwhile, Phil Foden has outrageous skill and Jack Grealish (who could have played for Ireland) operates from further back, controlling the center of the pitch and letting loose with passes from deep to the forwards. Mount, Sancho, and Grealish are all in their teens or early 20s, but they don’t get rattled by the pressure. They probably get this from coach Gareth Southgate, a calm man who does not scream at his players from the sideline even though English fans and press like coaches who do that. His tactical adjustments have all been spot on in this tournament, one reason why England are favorites here.
What about Italy?
Historically, the Italians win by being airtight at the back and doing just enough on offense. Not this year; coach Roberto Mancini has given them license to open things up and attack, which they’ve done through the three forwards Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile, and Federico Chiesa. None of them are big, physical players who specialize in heading the ball. Rather, they’re all fast and skilled, with goalscoring touch and the ability to assist their teammates. Behind them, Marco Verratti controls the pitch from the center and Jorginho (a Brazilian with enough Italian ancestry to qualify for Italy) prefers to shield the defense but can contribute on offense as well. If Italy has penalty kicks, he’s their designated guy from the spot.
How will they match up?
Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci touted this game as “youngs vs. olds,” since he and central defensive partner Giorgio Chiellini have a combined age of 70, though they’ve shown that they can still keep opponents off the scoresheet. How they do against England’s young attackers is something to watch, though I’m more interested in the clash between Grealish and Verratti, who have such similar skill sets. Speaking of age, Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma is only 22. His England counterpart Jordan Pickford has been splendid (Everton fans are probably wondering why he can’t play that way for them), but I think I trust the wunderkind more if it does come down to penalties.
Whom are you rooting for?
I’m backing England this time out. The country hasn’t won anything since World Cup 1966, and I’d be happy to see them break their title drought at the same time that my basketball team breaks theirs. Not to mention the side is full of players who are not only good but likable as well, with Henderson helping torpedo the European Super League and Sterling and Marcus Rashford (a goalscorer off the bench) drawing attention to racism in Britain, unlike previous generations of Black English players. I mean, Rashford essentially shamed the British government into feeding the nation’s schoolchildren during the early days of the pandemic. (And what did you do when you were 22?) The team plays in an aesthetically pleasing manner and can adapt to opposing defensive schemes. They and their coach deserve a bit of silverware.
Where can we see it?
Any bar with a TV should be able to find a game with so much TV exposure. I’ve been going round to the local sports bars myself to follow the NBA action, and I’ve been pleased with the outdoor seating at BoomerJack’s, Flip’s Patio Grill, City Works, and Upper 90. The Abbey Pub is a reliable place to watch soccer, too. Perhaps you’ll find me at one of these places, taking in the game as an appetizer for Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Go Suns!