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England take on Italy, eye first title in 55 years

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Winning Euro 2020 will be redemption for Southgate

LONDON, July 10, (AP): To hear the England players giddily singing along with the Wembley Stadium crowd to “Sweet Caroline” – “so good, so good” – encapsulates the youthful exuberance and carefree spirit of a group unburdened by trying to end the team’s 55- year trophy drought on Sunday. To hear Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini talk about going all the way shows how pressure to win a trophy for your country can be an enduring motivation for yourself and the squad, especially in the twilight of a career. “Maybe at 36 you feel it more,” Chiellini said, “because you understand more how hard it is and the work that goes into it.”

The European Championship final on Sunday pits England, which haven’t even reached a final since winning the 1966 World Cup, against one of the continent’s most decorated teams. The last of Italy’s four World Cup victories came in 2006, when Chiellini had already made his international debut but didn’t play at the tournament. But the team are a comparative underachievers in the European Championship with their only title in 1968. Italy, however, have already reached the final twice in recent years – in 2000 and 2012 – whereas England haven’t got close until now. With the pandemic restricting travel to London, the permitted crowd of 66,000 at Wembley Stadium will be largely packed with England fans for the national team’s greatest soccer moment since 1966, when coach Gareth Southgate wasn’t even born. Winning Euro 2020 would be a form of redemption for Southgate, whose penalty miss against Germany at Euro ‘96 denied England a chance of making the final.

“I know it won’t be enough for me and for the rest of the staff and for the players if we don’t win it now,” Southgate said. “You get lovely messages that say ‘whatever happens now,’ but that won’t be how it will be on Monday. We’ve got to get it right. Italy didn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup but have excelled with a 33-match unbeaten run since then under coach Roberto Mancini. “At the beginning, when he told us to have in our minds the idea of winning the Euro, we thought he was crazy,” Chiellini said. “Instead, during these years he has created a team which are now on the brink of doing that. And as he has repeated to us after every match, ‘One centimeter at a time,’ and now there is only the last centimeter left.” They have to find a way past opponents that have conceded only one goal in their six games at Euro 2020 and coped with Harry Kane not even scoring in the group stage.

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