London: Gareth Southgate says England are set to make Euro 2020 final tonight history as they pursue a first major trophy in 55 years, but Italy is in the mood to spoil party at Wembley.
Southgate’s side sent the nation into a frenzy as they reached their first European Championship final, leaving them to a victory of a first title since the 1966 World Cup.
With 60,000 lucky fans at Wembley, millions across England will be glued to the TV final, with some schools and businesses due to open later on Monday to allow for a break after the 1900 GMT kick-off.
The Southgate team have received messages of support from Queen Elizabeth II, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and even Hollywood actor Tom Cruise.
Take out the mustard
Johnson decorated the exterior of his official Downing Street residence with dozens of St George flags.
After England received an enthusiastic start, with fans lining the streets on the journey from their St George’s Park base to the team hotel on Saturday, Southgate urged England to exploit the outpouring of emotion in a winning formula in the final.
“The players need to feel that warmth and that support. It certainly helped inspire us. We are in the final and we are here to win.
“Now we want to take the trophy home for everyone.”
Southgate has revolutionized English football since taking office in 2016 and his side have impressed with Euro round of 16 victories over Germany, Ukraine and Denmark.
But England were beaten in the 2018 World Cup semi-final by Croatia and only a final triumph over Italy will now be enough to satisfy them.
“That’s the challenge now. We have broken down barriers along the way, but we have to go there and win, ”said England captain Harry Kane.
Not everyone subscribes to the patriotic fever that rages in England.
With England in six of their seven home Euro games at Wembley, some rival nations claim UEFA has tipped the tournament too much in favor of the Three Lions.
England’s neighbors have made no attempt to hide their wish for a victory for Italy.
The Scottish newspaper The National featured on the front page a photo of Italian manager Roberto Mancini mocking the character of William Wallace in the Braveheart movie over the headline “Save us Roberto … You are our last hope!”
After the Scottish, German and Danish national anthems were all booed at Wembley earlier in the tournament, Southgate told English fans to respect the Italians.
“We know that actually when we play overseas and the fans boo our anthem, it probably inspires us even more. We have to be respectful, ”he said.
But Italian captain Giorgio Chiellini is not taken aback by the prospect of having to play in such a hostile atmosphere.
“There is always a home team. This has happened in the past and it will not be the last time, ”he said.
“There is no controversy. It is a dream for football fans everywhere to be involved in the final and it will be even better if we can win it. “
Italy were arguably the team of the tournament, sweeping the group stage with a perfect record before knocking out Austria, Belgium and Spain at the top of the table to reach the final.
Revitalized since Mancini took over after their embarrassing failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the Azzurri are on a remarkable 33-game unbeaten streak.
Quadruple world champion Italy last won the European Championship in 1968, losing their previous two finals in 2002 and 2012.
Veteran defender Chiellini called on his teammates to stay focused with the trophy close at hand.
“We must prosper and savor this opportunity. When we met before the competition I said we needed a hint of the craziness and to keep a cool head, ”Chiellini said.
“It has brought us here and I hope it will allow us to win the competition.”