Italy v England: Back England to bring it home - just!

Paul Higham is backing Gareth Southgate to complete the job and steer England to Euro 2020 glory against Italy but is predicting a nail-biter at Wembley...

We've had a fantastic tournament, far better than we could have imagined given the circumstances, and what a fitting finale we have in store with Italy v England at Wembley seeing the clear two best teams in the tournament fighting it out for the trophy.

Southgate to stick to the plan to steer England home

They were among the pre-tournament favourites, but it was still with a bit more hope than expectation that we talked up England's chances of winning Euro 2020, yet here they stand just one game away from English sporting immortality - but what a game it is.

I think I've talked about Gareth Southgate as much as, if not more than, any of his players this tournament but he's undoubtedly the catalyst for England's success. He's been an oasis of calm and clear thinking, ignoring the criticism of almost every team selection and sticking to his well-prepared plan.

Southgate is the only England boss I've seen to actually 'get' tournament football. Winning is everything, there are no style points, and he's stuck to his guns and focused on keeping clean sheets first and foremost.

Of course, Southgate is blessed to have a squad packed with enormously gifted footballers, especially going forward, but instead of falling into the trap of trying to unleash them all in a festival of attacking football - he's worked out that if they keep it tight at the back he's got plenty of options up top to pinch a goal and win a game.

Just one conceded from a set piece in six games and a first final for 55 years has proven his point - and there's no reason to change now against a dangerous Italy, who will punish any defensive lapses more than the Danes could.

The gameplan will remain; defend first, Kane drops deep with attacking coming at pace from out wide, and the bench will again be crucial - the only worry would be Jordan Pickford's nervous excitement leading to more lapses in concentration.

He got away with a few against Denmark, he won't against Italy.

England have had the players before, but not the manager to bring them together and organise them - they now seem to have both the talent and the coaching to win it all, they just need to get the execution right to make history.

In-form Italy forgotten how to lose

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You couldn't get a better test than the Italians, appearing in their 10th major final and the kings of tournament football. Part of Southgate's blueprint may well have come from watching the Azzurri grind out victories down the years.

There are big similarities with Roberto Mancini's side as they too have a deep squad, use the bench often and well, and seem to be all about the collective with plenty of players from more unfashionable Serie A sides.

Italy were more impressive early on when blowing teams away before producing more typical battling performances to beat Austria, Belgium and Spain.

Mancini's side have shown energy to press high but can also defend deep - Jorginho makes them tick in the middle of the park and Federico Chiesa has scored a couple of crucial goals when grabbing the third forward spot alongside Lorenzo Insigne and Ciro Immobile.

The Italians have never lost to England at a major tournament and have been here before of course, but they've lost the last two finals they've appeared in at the Euros, with their single victory remaining that 1968 win which came with a replay in the final after winning the semis via a coin toss!

Italy are a tough, robust side, they know how to win big games and they've forgotten how to lose as they arrive riding a remarkable 33-game unbeaten streak. They've conceded just 10 goals in that run.

Their veteran centre back Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are real gladiators but their big strength could also be their weakness as they're not the quickest and the running ability of Sterling, Saka or Sancho could cause problems here. Left-back Emerson is also a weak point as a replacement for the excellent Spinazzola.

Football coming home or going to Rome?

England are slight 2.74 favourites with the patriotic pound no doubt flooding in before kick-off, so it may be best to wait and see if Italy drift further from 3.2. The draw is 3.1 and will be well backed - no team has played more extra time in the Euros than Italy (nine games).

The Three Lions haven't conceded from open play and Italy have only let in two goals in 90 minutes so far so Under 2.5 Goals is the big favourite at 1.55. Italy's fantastic run added to England being unbeaten in 12, conceding just two and keeping 10 clean sheets shows these are the two hardest teams to beat in Europe.

Only one of the last nine Euro finals has seen over 2.5 goals, and that was Italy's 4-0 hammering at the hands of Spain in 2012 - which featured both Chiellini and Bonucci.

Italy have only lost two of the last 14 against England, with their last competitive defeat coming back in 1977, so they'll be confident, and with their extra time records neither side will be scared of playing the long game.

That brings either team to win in extra time at 5/1 on the Sportsbook right into play here as almost every way you imagine this game going revolves around it being tight and tense and being decided by the smallest of margins.

On that theme, Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers could have a say on this game, and given the attacking trickery on show then 11/5 for a penalty to be awarded during the game seems a decent bet. It's 3/1 that it's scored.

Who to back in the individual markets

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Both sides are more direct, pressing teams than possession-based - Italy only had 32% against Spain, so it'll be interesting who gets more comfortable on the ball first. Neither team gives you easy chances, with them both offering up just 2.2 (England) and 2.3 (Italy) shots per game so far.

England have the lowest xG against in the tournament at 3.2 and the bookies fancy at least one team to bank a clean sheet with 'no' priced at 1.8 in the both teams to score market.

The half-time draw is a bet I'll be taking at 1.93 and the double on that and both teams not to score is a handy Bet Builder double at around 2.75.

Individually, Italy's front three are their main goal threats but I just fancy that if anyone will get the breakthrough it would be Chiesa, who is 4/1 anytime scorer. They've had more shots off high turnovers than anyone else in the tournament so England can't afford to make mistakes at the back.

Marco Verratti has created 12 chances this tournament, behind only Kevin De Bruyne, and he's 7.5 to register an assist at Wembley.

For England look no further than the main men to do the damage, but with the prices I think a decent approach is to opt for Sterling in the anytime scoring market at 4.8 as Kane (who is just 3.4 to score) may well drop deep again and play a more creative role.

Kane for an anytime assist at 15/2 is perhaps worth a speculative effort, but as England should get joy in wide areas then Saka at 11/2 up against Emerson is capable of setting up a goal.

This final cold be set up for Grealish to have an impact off the bench though - and he's 7/2 favourite in the anytime assists market.

How England can bring it home

As much as I'd like to sit on the fence here, there has to be an outcome, and you can't do the Euro final preview without picking a winner - and I truly think the home side will take it.

This isn't the 'same old England' that we've seen in the past, with both the manager and most of the players comfortable in tight, high-pressure games, and if they can handle the occasion then they have enough quality to handle Italy.

Italy had real problems handling the pace and footwork of Belgium's Jeremy Doku so I think Sterling and Saka, later followed by Grealish, Sancho and even Foden, hold the real key to victory for the hosts.

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Italy full-backs Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Emerson don't inspire me defensively, while neither Chiellini or Bonucci will not want to be isolated against one of England's flying forwards.

Not that anyone's dealt with the excellent Sterling - who has dribbled past more players than anyone else in the tournament (18), with a joint-best seven of those coming in the opposition box.

Maguire, Stones and in particular Walker and Pickford will have to avoid mistakes against Italy's hungry high-pressing forwards, and I wouldn't be surprised, or indeed uncomfortable, with Southgate playing three at the back after having Walker's pace as that safety blanket.

I wouldn't rule out extra time but I don't THINK it will go to penalties - admittedly the opposition were different but England looked much stronger in their extra time than Italy did, and as I've been banging on about all tournament five subs really plays into Southgate's hands with his attacking talent.

So I'm not taking the 90-minute price but I'll happily side with England to end over half a century of hurt in a low-scoring tense old evening at Wembley.

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