Saka: I knew instantly the sort of hate I was going to get

Arsenal and England forward Buyako Saka has has spoken out in defence against the abuse faced since his country’s exit at the hands of Italy.

Speaking on Instagram, the winger said: “I have stayed away from social media for a few days to spend time with my family and reflect on the last few weeks. This message won’t do it justice how grateful I am for all the love that I have received, and I feel that I need to thank everyone who has supported me.

“It was an honour to be part of an @England squad that leads by example, they are brothers for life and I’m grateful for everything that I have learnt from every one of the players and staff who worked so hard. To help that team reach our first final in 55 years, seeing my family in the crowd, knowing what they’ve given up to help me get there, that meant everything to me.

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“There are no words to tell you how disappointed I was with the result and my penalty. I really believed we would win this for you. I’m sorry that we couldn’t bring it home for you this year, but I promise you that we will give everything we’ve got to make sure this generation knows how it feels to win.

“My reaction post match said it all, I was hurting so much and I felt like I’d let you all and my England family down, but I can promise you this.. I will not let that moment or the negativity that I’ve received this week break me.”

The teenager explained how he would approach the coming weeks on social media, after his England colleagues had faced racist abuse.

“For those who have campaigned on my behalf and sent me heartfelt letters, wished me and my family well – I’m so thankful. This is what football should be about. Passion, people of all races, genders, religions and backgrounds coming together with one shared joy of the rollercoaster of football.”

The Arsenal forward joined the movement against abuse that followed England’s exit from Euro 2020.

He joined calls to have social media properly regulated, according to many.

“To the social media platforms @instagram @twitter @facebook I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that me Marcus and Jadon have received this week. I knew instantly the kind of hate that I was about to receive and that is a sad reality that your powerful platforms are not doing enough to stop these messages,” he said.

“There is no place for racism or hate of any kind in football or in any area of society and to the majority of people coming together to call out the people sending these messages, by taking action and reporting these comments to the police and by driving out the hate by being kind to one another, we will win.

“Love always wins. Bukayo Saka”

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YESTERDAY AT 17:01

Kane and Sterling channel 1966 in leading England back to the promised land

The last time England reached a tournament final, Nobby Stiles marked Eusebio out of the game, Bobby Charlton scored both their goals and a band played ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ as Alf Ramsey’s men left the Wembley pitch. It was all rather beautiful and summery, unlike the thrilling but stressful marathon of this victory over Denmark.

This time a more modern cast of England idols jigged and punched the air to a new Wembley anthem that’s as old as the hills musically, but feels freshly suited to this Euro 2020 adventure: Sweet Caroline, infectious, annoying, insistent, happy. ‘Three Lions’ or ‘Football’s Coming Home’ – the Euro 96 ear-worm – were in the mix too, but team and fans wanted to dance, and Sweet Caroline seemed a better expression of the communion between this squad and its followers.

An exultant Wembley crowd made this a very modern celebration – part music festival, part renewal of vows with a side some had given up on only one European Championship ago. Whether “football’s coming home” is debatable on all sorts of levels, but England are certainly coming back here, to the cathedral of the English game, where the local hero, Raheem Sterling, was again pivotal, forcing a Danish own goal and then an extra-time penalty which Kane converted at the second attempt in extra-time.

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England’s forward Raheem Sterling greets the fans after their win in the UEFA EURO 2020 semi-final football match between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium in London on July 7, 2021

Image credit: Getty Images

Semi-final wins often require domineering performances and England came up with them, from Sterling, Harry Maguire, Kalvin Phillips and Kyle Walker.

“We’ve shown great resilience, we’re a credit to each other – not just the players who play but the whole squad and staff,” Kane said. Across two European Championships, Kane had played seven games without scoring before jolting back to life with an 85th minute goal against Germany, then two against Ukraine, then the winning (and disputed) penalty here. He said: “Live I thought it was a penalty. I haven’t seen it back, but I thought I should have had a penalty in the second-half, so it probably evens itself out.”

Italy needed even longer to beat Spain, in a penalty shoot-out, so both teams will need to reach even deeper inside themselves in the finale of a wonderful, Covid-escaping championship.

Fifty-five years on from their first and only appearance in a World Cup or European Championship finale, England’s men will face Italy on Sunday in an age unrecognisable from the mid-1960s. Southgate’s men are making all sorts of history: first knock-out win over Germany in 55 years and first final – in the first global pandemic since Spanish flu.

But football has common threads that link the eras, and England have assembled another generation with the spirit, purpose and talent of the ‘boys of 66.’ And in Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling they have conjured an updated Bobby Charlton/Geoff Hurst combination: players who can be relied on in games of this magnitude – even if Kane had to mimic Jimmy Greaves’ struggles in ’66 before reclaiming his status as the striker par excellence.

Another ’66 echo was that Jordan Pickford broke Gordon Banks’ England record (696) for the most minutes without conceding a goal – but not by much, Three minutes later, a scorching Mikkel Damsgaard free-kick flew unstoppably into Pickford’s net and England were behind for the first time at this tournament. Would they crumble as they had against Iceland in 2016? England delivered an answer nine minutes later when Kane slid the ball to Bukayo Saka in a crossing position and Simon Kjaer bundled the ball into his own net ahead of Sterling.

‘I am extremely proud’ – Kane reflects on England’s historic night

The second-half siege of Denmark will live long in that country’s folklore. It extended the mission the Danes have been on to honour Christian Eriksen, who was revived on the pitch from a cardiac arrest in their first match. They were superbly resolute. But England’s quality at grinding them down won through eventually. The depth of Southgate’s squad inflicted rolling pressure. The home fans redoubled their support, knowing that England’s bench bristled with reinforcements.

Southgate too showed his steel, sending Jack Grealish on in the 69th minute and taking him off again half-way through extra-time. When this tournament kicked off Southgate was supposedly a hostage to all the young talent in his squad. His job was simply to avoid getting in its way. Instead he has rotated his starlets, backed his own judgment and exercised absolute power in team selection.

“The most pleasing thing is we’ve given the fans and nation a fantastic night and the journey carries on for another four days,” Southgate said. “We suffered in Moscow [at the 2018 World Cup] on a night like this and we’ve managed to put that right.”

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 07: Gareth Southgate, Head Coach of England celebrates their side’s victory after the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium on July 07, 2021 in London, England.

Image credit: Getty Images

Kane said: “We can talk as much as we want about 2018 and how much we’ve learned but it’s about doing it on the pitch.”

England’s second consecutive major tournament semi-final opened a path to greater glory. An imperfect but still formidable Italy side marshalled and motivated by Roberto Mancini stand in the way. A pleasure denied the English since Bobby Moore led England out in the old Empire Stadium 55 years ago will flood the country as it emerges, uncertainly and perhaps dangerously, from Covid shutdowns.

In this Wembley crowd you could feel the energy of release, from confinement, yes, but also from that weight of history, that sense that England were doomed not to go all the way. The last survivors of the ’66 team were starting to think they’d never see another England side in a final. But soon it will dawn on everyone that reaching the last match is only part of it. A big part, but not the full consummation. Thoughts must turn now to winning it.

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Sterling dominates again as Three Lions come of age – England player ratings

Gareth Southgate’s England have answered a lot of questions this tournament. One that remained was how they would react to going a goal down as they did against Denmark in their 2-1 semi-final win.

They answered that question, but could they handle the rigours of extra-time? That was answered emphatically with a performance of maturity, direction and intelligence.

This was epitomised from minute 117 to 119 when they saw out the game with a spell of passing – that totalled 54 passes – befitting a team at the top of their game..

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FORMATION

There had been speculation that Southgate may switch to a back three for the test of Denmark. However, the England manager stuck with the 4-2-3-1 formation that brought four goals against Ukraine.

There was a slight switch in personnel, with Bukayo Saka taking the spot of Jadon Sancho on the right of the advanced midfield three.

However, when attacking, that advanced trio pushed right up, making it a 4-2-4. England wanted to control not just the ball but also territory and they did that for large swathes of the game.

TALKING POINT – A connection renewed

England and its fans have had – at times – a tumultuous relationship. It is perhaps Gareth Southgate’s greatest achievement that there is now a renewed connection between the national team and its fans.

It is – obviously – an intangible but that renewed connection underpinned the ferocity with which they chased the equaliser and then the winner. Every wave of attack was met with a wall of noise and, remarkably for modern football, the fans also showed patience when the ebb and flow of the game was not to their liking or in England’s favour.

PLAYER RATINGS

Pickford – 6: He was not as assured as he has been for England lately but – largely – did what was needed of him.

Walker – 8: The 31-year-old had been excellent defensively all tournament and was exactly that again here.

Stones – 7 : Denmark rarely asked questions of him but he was solid when required, and set attacks in motion from deep.

Maguire – 8: The Manchester United centre-half missed the first two matches of the tournament due to injury. Yet, he was probably the sharpest player on the pitch. He sets the tone from the back.

Shaw – 7: The difference he has made to this England side is palpable. He has an excellent understanding with club colleague Maguire and City rival Sterling. His presence makes England a far more fluid outfit.

Phillips – 8: The Yorkshire Pirlo played in an advanced role and at times found it difficult to evade the attentions of Delaney early on. But always showed for the ball and snapped into tackles where required; his influence grew as the game developed, and he began to set the tempo.

Rice – 7: Got a round of applause from Maguire after he had harried and harassed Denmark just after England had levelled. He was dogged throughout and always on the front foot.

Sterling – 9: His future at Manchester City is inexplicably in doubt. Yet, he has never let that affect him – it speaks to his remarkable mental strength. And it was Sterling who drove England forward after they went behind, jinking and probing the Three Lions up the pitch. The goal will go down to as own goal but he was, once again, exactly where he needed to be when England needed him to be there. Won the penalty with a typically positive run for the winner. What a footballer.

Mount – 6: A menace of a player who pops up all over the pitch whether in a defensive or attacking sense.

Saka – 8: The 19-year-old was not as influential as he was against Czech Republic but he played a crucial role in pinning Denmark back with his high starting position and, of course, set up the equaliser.

Kane – 8 This was his best all-round performance of the tournament; dropped deep and played with his head on a swivel. The complete forward did a complete job on Denmark. Missed the penalty but followed it up as cool as you like. Has also reached god-level ability to win free-kicks and is one goal off the Golden Boot.

Substitutes

Grealish – 6: Entered the fray to the reception of the cultural icon he has become and then immediately won a free-kick as he does. Was bright but was subbed for Trippier – more to follow on that.

Henderson – 7: Injected an energy and fizz to England’s play.

Foden – 6: An absolute dream of a footballer to bring on in any circumstance. Worked hard and knitted things together. Also his delivery from set pieces added another dimension.

Trippier – 7: Added an element of control that Southgate wanted.

VERDICT

England are in a final of a major tournament. And deservedly so. They have answered every question that has been posed of them. Gareth Southgate’s appointment was broadly met with indifference but what a job he has done. This felt like a coming of age performance.

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Italy dig deep to demonstrate inner strength when tactics go out the window

No team at Euro 2020 have caught the imagination like Italy have. For large spells of their semi-final against Spain, though, their fans were surely imagining what defeat would feel like. Out-played and out-thought by an opponent that looked to have the upper hand, the Azzurri appeared to be in trouble.

Roberto Mancini’s master plan, which had got his team to the final four, was faltering as Spain controlled the centre of the pitch. Nicolo Barella, Jorginho and Marco Verratti, Italy’s engine, struggled for traction. Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were pushed and pulled out of position by Dani Olmo in a ‘false nine’ position.

Luis Enrique’s strategy starved Italy of the ball in a way that hadn’t been done before in the tournament. The absence of the injured Leonardo Spinazzola down the left side denied Italy an outball as Gianluigi Donnarumma played a series of passes straight into the Spanish pass machine.

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And yet Italy still had enough within them to secure their place in the final. When it mattered most, the likes of Jorginho and Federico Chiesa still came up with moments of individual quality to mask failings elsewhere. Mancini’s Italy are more than the sum of their parts, but those individual parts are still capable of deciding things on their own.

From the start, it was clear this would be a high quality encounter between two teams good enough to appear in the final of a major tournament. This shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise given the pedigree of the two coaches on the touchline. Their work was clear in the produce on the pitch.

Unlike many managers currently plying their trade in the international arena, Enrique and Mancini have proven themselves at the highest level of the club game. The coherence of their respective game plans hinted at this, with Italy and Spain the two best coached teams in the tournament.

Chiesa’s opener looked to have created the ideal scenario for Italy, who were able to sit back, prevent space from opening up in behind and protect their lead. Enrique could barely have envisaged more of a nightmare pattern of play for a team that had been criticised for their lack of cutting edge.

And yet the introduction of Alvaro Morata, benched from the start for the first time at Euro 2020, unsettled the Azzurri. While Olmo enjoyed some success in pulling the Italian defensive line higher by dropping in deep to compress things in the middle, Morata tested Bonucci and Chiellini’s mobility by repeatedly taking the ball into feet before spinning in behind.

This is how Spain created the opportunity for the equaliser, with Olmo and Morata exchanging passes for the Juventus striker to be released clean through on goal. Rafael Toloi was substituted on to offer fresh legs and stop Spain from simply running through Italy, but this came at the cost of defensive width.

By extra time, Italy appeared to be playing for a shootout. Manuel Locatelli and Matteo Pessini were introduced to provide some athleticism through the middle of the pitch, where Spain were still dominating, but their impact was minimal. The structure that had sustained Italy through the tournament until that point had been fragmented.

Mancini doesn’t just have a group of good players capable of executing his instructions, though. He has strong characters and that shone through in the end. The likes of Bonucci, Chiellini and Jorginho weren’t about to let this tournament, which has often felt like Italy’s tournament, slip away. Sometimes, football comes down to the intangibles and this is another area where Italy measure up well.

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Opinion: England must recycle Germany game plan for Denmark semi final

Eyebrows were raised when Gareth Southgate’s England XI for the make-or-break Euro 2020 last 16 clash with Germany was released. Amid accusations of excessive conservatism, the 50-year-old doubled down on his approach, opting to shore up the defence and midfield over introducing some creativity. Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount all started on the bench.

Southgate admitted his own apprehension afterwards by stating he feared he’d “be dead” had the ploy backfired. It didn’t, though. Instead, England produced a measured performance that vindicated the bold choices of their manager as they marched deeper into the tournament.

Now, England face Denmark in the semi-finals and Southgate might be wise to recycle the plan he devised to take on Germany. Tactically speaking, there are similarities between the 2014 World Cup winners and Kasper Hjulmand’s side. England will have to combat many of the same things they faced in the round of 16.

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The most notable similarity is that Denmark, just like Germany, use wing backs to create overloads in the attacking areas. England kept Robin Gosens quiet in the round of 16 and they will have to do the same with Joakim Maelhe on Wednesday night, with the Atlanta wide man one of the players of the tournament so far.

In an orthodox back four, England could find themselves outnumbered by a Danish attack that quite often sees Maelhe push forward down the left and Mikkel Damsgaard drive into the final third from midfield to create an attacking unit of five. Add in Jens Stryger Larsen down the right side and the threat is obvious for Southgate and his players.

A switch to a back three would come with sacrifices, most notably in the centre of the pitch. As was the case against Germany, the midfield contest would come down to who wins their individual battles. In Thomas Delaney and Pierre-Emile Hjobjerg, Denmark boast two top level central operators.

Denmark’s Pierre Emile Hojbjerg in action

Image credit: Getty Images

However, England’s midfield partnership of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice handled Toni Kroos and Leon Goretzka and they would most likely handle Delaney and Hjobjerg. Southgate has shown great trust in the pair and is unlikely to disrupt the structure of his team in the centre of the pitch.

One area of concern for England could be in the space between John Stones as the central centre back and whoever (probably Kyle Walker) would play on the right side of a back three. Germany didn’t exploit this as much as they could have, but Martin Braithwaite is an attacker who likes to run the channels. He will test England’s defensive line with his movement.

Success against Germany and Ukraine has emboldened Southgate to the point where there is now widespread trust in the 50-year-old’s ability as a tactician. Southgate has a firm grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of each player in his 26-man squad and has made good use of this knowledge throughout the tournament.

He must, however, continue to combat the threats posed by opponents. Denmark might not have the individual quality of England, but Hjulmand has forged a team that is more than the sum of its parts. Their resurgence after the awful events of their opening group game, when Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest, has been remarkable.

Denmark have momentum behind them and are the neutral’s favourites, but they have made it this far by Euro 2020 by simply being a very good football team. Hjulmand changed the approach of his side after Eriksen was ruled out of the tournament, with the shift to a back three a good fit for his squad. England might have to respond with a shift of their own.

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Opinion: England Euro success for Shaw will make Mourinho eat his words

In the 84th minute of Manchester United’s astonishing 6-1 Premier League defeat to Tottenham last October, Luke Shaw, frustrated after being given the run-around by Son Heung-min and Serge Aurier all day, launched into a horrific tackle from behind on Lucas Moura.

The left back was lucky to escape with a yellow card when he should quite rightly have been sent off. On the touchline, his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked exasperated while in the other dugout, a certain Jose Mourinho might have raised a vindicated smirk.

Mourinho previously managed Shaw at Old Trafford and the player has since admitted the two didn’t get on, with Mourinho himself not shy in publicly criticising the player – both then and now.

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On that miserable afternoon, Shaw looked about as far away from an international quality defender as one might imagine, simply handing the outspoken Portuguese manager more ammunition.

Roll on eight months and as he hung up the cross that Harry Kane headed beyond the helpless George Buschan to put England 3-0 up in Rome, Shaw was on his way to completing, for some, a man-of-the-match performance as the Three Lions strolled into the Euro 2020 semi-final.

Along with his cross for Raheem Sterling to give England the lead against Germany three days before and the free-kick for club-mate Harry Maguire’s header five minutes earlier, the defender had registered his third assist of the tournament – only one behind the already-eliminated Steven Zuber of Switzerland.

It was a match that rubber-stamped Shaw’s rehabilitation and arguably secured his place in Gareth Southgate’s starting line-up for the remainder of the tournament, be that one game or two.

Shaw’s improvement over the course of last season for his club was notable with the player making six assists and scoring his only goal in a Manchester derby win at City as United finished runners up in the Premier League and Europa League.

At international level however, the 25-year-old’s career had seemed to have come to a standstill, with injuries and poor form leaving him on the periphery of the squad for a number of years.

In fact, after being recalled for the World Cup qualifiers in March this year, his selection for the match against Albania was Shaw’s first start since September 2018 – incidentally, he marked this return with an assist for Kane once again in a 2-0 win.

Ahead of the Euros however, Shaw was still expected to play second fiddle to Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell until the Champions League winning left back was forced to self-isolate due to Covid regulations.

Shaw seized his opportunity and after his impact in England’s last two games, he is expected to keep his place in the team.

Behind all this is the backdrop of an ongoing war of words with his former manager Mourinho who oversaw Shaw during the lowest point of his career when the two were at United.

Declan Rice, Luke Shaw and Mason Mount of England acknowledge the fans after victory in the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Quarter-final match between Ukraine and England at Olimpico Stadium on July 03, 2021 in Rome, Italy

Image credit: Getty Images

A potentially career-threatening leg break in 2015 kept the player out of action for a number of months and by the time of his return, Mourinho was his manager and seemingly had no time for the player.

During his media duties for the tournament, Mourinho reopened the feud, describing Shaw’s corner delivery as “dramatically bad” against Czech Republic to which Shaw referred to the continued barbs as “strange”.
However, even the newly-appointed Roma manager was impressed with Shaw’s display at the Stadio Olympico against Ukraine, describing him as getting “better and better”.

Shaw has said he is ignoring his former boss’ comments – good and bad – from now on, but should his form continue and he help England lift the trophy, it’s obvious who will have had the last laugh.

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Opinion: Italy's warhorses Bonucci and Chiellini can lead Italy to Euro glory

Almost irrespective of how the remaining games go, Italy will earn major plaudits for their performances over the last three weeks and will be many people’s pick for team of the tournament.

Roberto Mancini’s team have marched to the semi-finals without too many problems, looking impressive while doing so, showing boundless energy and an attacking fearlessness in their five matches so far.

After shockingly missing out on the last World Cup in 2018, there was a genuine fear that one of the perennial international powerhouses had seen their flame dimmed.

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However, following the appointment of Roberto Mancini, things have changed and ahead of the huge clash with Spain at Wembley, the Azzurri find themselves 32 matches unbeaten, a run stretching back nearly three years.

It’s not just the upturn in results, the football has changed too with the cautiousness more commonly associated with Italian teams being cast aside for a more adventurous forward-thinking approach.

Their 11 goals are only second to the 12 scored by their semi-final opponents and Italy are currently the only team in triple figures for total goal attempts (101) across the tournament.

However, one thing that has remained is the defensive resolve with Mancini’s backline still being marshalled by the imperious pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, age 34 and 36 respectively, as part of his three-man defence.

To put this into perspective, both players were in the Italy starting line-up when Italy last reached the final of the tournament in 2012, only to be overrun by a rampant Spain.

Not that there will be thoughts of revenge when they face off at Wembley this year – Italy eliminated Spain four years later in France and yes, Bonucci and Chiellini played that day too – but both players are far more savvy than to allow anything approaching the 4-0 beating they received in Kiev.

Chiellini and Bonucci celebrate against Belgium

Image credit: Getty Images

Since 2010, the two have featured in 59 matches for their country together, winning 33 and losing just nine, conceding only 58 times – that’s in addition to their many years together hoovering up domestic titles with Juventus.

However, on paper, ahead of the competition, rival teams may have seen these two as a potential weak leak given their advancing years and for all their talent and experience, likely to be exposed by even the slightest bit of pace.

Equally, for many, the archetypal modern defender is expected to be able to ‘play’ as well as defend and for Chiellini in particular, the ‘no nonsense’ defensive style can be seen as outdated.

Even for Bonucci, who is more of a ball-player, his better days might have been considered behind him.

Such an assessment could not have been more wide of the mark. In fact, the only goal Italy have conceded with the two on the pitch at the same time was Romelu Lukaku’s penalty in the quarter final win over Belgium.

Even faced with pressure as the Belgians pressed for an equaliser, they stood firm. Making a goal-saving challenge late on, Chiellini leapt up to explode in celebration with his defensive partner – a reaction no less emphatic than that of his goalscoring teammates at the other end of the pitch.

Not only is the pairing still effective but there is clearly still a passion, and even love of defending like no other when they are out on the pitch.

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It is this kind of visible desire that an entire nation will help drive them over the final two hurdles of a competition they were not expected to win beforehand.

The continued inclusion of the two aging stalwarts could perhaps be seen as a lack of trust in any possible alternatives but equally, for Mancini, it is surely a case of ‘if it’s not broke, why fix it?’

Spain, even with question marks over their forward line, will provide a tough test for the veteran defenders but given what we have seen so far, it is a challenge they will no doubt relish.

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Why Italy versus Spain is Euro 2020’s Spider-Man meme

Do you know the Spider-Man meme? Unlike some, perhaps you don’t spend all of your time addicted to Twitter, so here’s an explanation. It’s a still from the old 1960s Spider-Man cartoon, in which the web slinger meets another person in an identical Spider-Man costume. You’ve probably seen it somewhere.

Italy against Spain on Tuesday evening is Euro 2020’s Spider-Man meme.

The in-episode context of the meme is that the second Spider-Man is actually an imposter, and that’s what this feels like. Spain are the tiki-taka masters. This has been their tactical identity since things really started cooking for the side around 2008. Luis Enrique has actually tried to move away from this, but you wouldn’t know it from watching them on the pitch. Possession football runs deep into the DNA of Spain and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

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Italy, then, are certainly impersonating the “real” Spider-Man. Italian football is always admirably shameless about copying methods that work elsewhere when their more traditional defensive style isn’t getting the job done. Arrigo Sacchi’s revolutionary AC Milan side largely borrowed from Dutch style total football mixed with an English 4-4-2. At the Coverciano technical centre where Italian managers learn their trade, an emphasis is placed on being flexible with different styles of football. Unlike most footballing nations, the Italians will look at what they have and find the methods to suit.

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Now it’s the Spanish they’re copying. This is a pretty obvious choice considering the profile of midfielder they have. Even when Andrea Pirlo was pinging passes around for fun, he had players like Claudio Marchisio and Daniele De Rossi to offer a different blend. This time it’s different. With a likely starting trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella, you have three players who all want the ball and favour a technical style. Jorginho has looked lightweight at times for Chelsea, and that’s when he’s next to N’Golo Kante. Here, he doesn’t have that sort of cover. It’s all about the passing because they don’t have the profile of midfielder to do it differently.

And that’s an interesting problem to deal with when Spain are going to be mixing it up in exactly the same way. Enrique’s team have had by far the most possession (67.2%) of any team in the tournament. Their midfield composition of Sergio Busquets, Koke and Pedri really does look the same as the Italian trio. It’s all pass, pass, pass, little feint, cute dribble, pass, pass pass. It’s not known for its hard runners or physical presence. This will be a game with six central midfielders looking to carefully move the ball through midfield trying to play every pass at precise angles. It’s a game of refined artists.

Which is exactly why it might not turn out that way. Both sides have the quality to play a possession game and will attempt to do so. When that happens, the side who dominates the ball sometimes isn’t the one who passes it best, but the one who wins it back the best. Counter-intuitively, this might become a game based around pressing rather than passing. When two possession sides meet, they inevitably have the ball less often than they want, so it becomes a story of how they respond to not having it.

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Both sides have pressed fairly similarly during the tournament. Italy have been slightly more front foot, making 31.2% of their pressures in the final third against Spain’s 29.5%, but we’re talking tiny margins here. These are, once again, both sides who have been trying to play the same way. But now is where we might start to see some differences. Italy have the flexibility to move into a more conventional defensive approach. They have two very experienced centre backs in Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci who know each other’s games inside out. Chiellini once claimed he knows his Juventus and Italy centre back partner “better than I know my wife”. This is as old school knowledge a pair as you’re going to get. The midfield is certainly a concern, but if Mancini wants to sit a little deeper and ride his centre backs making important blocks and clearances, they can do that.

Spain, on the other hand, don’t really have this emergency parachute. They haven’t settled on a clear centre-back partnership, with Pau Torres and Eric Garcia both getting minutes next to Aymeric Laporte. Spain had to convince French-born Laporte to turn his back on his birth country and represent La Roja because the options in this position were so poor (especially as injury problems plague Sergio Ramos). It’s not impossible to succeed without great centre backs, but the organisation in front of them has to be excellent. Spain, as discussed, don’t have high energy defensive midfielders, so they really do have to rely on good pressing right from the front. Arguably none of their defenders or midfielders are comfortable defending open spaces. This is a team that wants to defend with the ball, slowing down the game when needs be, and restricting the space that way. If it’s an open and transition-based game then Spain might be toast.

That might be why it could be wise for Italy to switch it up this time. An attempt to outpass Spain is asking to play their game against them. If the DNA of Spanish football is in possessing the ball, it’s in Italy’s nature to be adaptable. That’s the side we need to see from Mancini against Spain. Turn the possession football down a little, add in some of the basics of traditional Italian defending, rely on the front three in transition. Italy have what it takes to win this game, and the whole tournament, because they can switch it up when the moment calls for change.

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Southgate challenges England to go ‘two steps further’ after Ukraine win

England manager Gareth Southgate has tasked his charges with going two steps further to win Euro 2020 after they produced a scintillating display to beat Ukraine 4-0.

The Three Lions will face Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday for a spot in the showpiece final against either Italy or Spain.

Harry Kane (2), Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson got the goals as the Three Lions produced a statement performance at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

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However, Southgate, while delighted has challenged his players to win the whole tournament.

“It’s fabulous. I suppose it’s still sinking in that it’s another semi-final – three in three years,” he told the BBC.

We want to go two steps further. I know what will be happening at home. It’s lovely to see everyone on a Saturday night, beer in hand. They should enjoy it.

“It’s been a long year for everyone. I’m chuffed the two performances have brought so much happiness to people.

“We’ve known we had players we needed to look after physically. We’ve been able to introduce them. We know across seven games the squad is so important, trying to give people a breather at the right time. We learned a lot from Russia in that instance.

“We were trying to balance players with knocks and yellow cards. ‘Do we take the centre-back off? Because we’ve the game sown up he won’t need to make a tackle.’

“It’s fabulous for our country – a semi-final at Wembley. Everyone can really look forward to that – it’s brilliant.”

Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger expects England to make the final as a minimum.

“It was the perfect night for English football, a perfect night for England,” Wenger told beIN Sports.

“They didn’t concede a goal, they qualified easily and they could rest important players.

They scored three goals from crosses and sometimes small things cause big impacts, and that was certainly the case when Ukraine lost a centre back in the first half. They were free headers and that is not expected at this level.

“Ukraine conceded three poor goals and the second goal killed the game. It became an easy game for England but they did it well and what was important for them tonight is that they didn’t concede a goal.

“That will be an important quality to go to the final and win it. They look more stable, defensively.

“They are still looking for the perfect solution going forward I think but I’m convinced now they will be difficult to stop.

“They go home to London now for the semi-final so it will be difficult to stop them getting to the final.”

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