Antonio Conte identifies the strengths and weaknesses that could decide the UEFA EURO 2020 Final, warning Italy can rely on experience and a high press, while the pressure could be too much for England. ‘We know what it means to play Finals and how to win them.’
The Final kicks off at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 20.00 UK time.
Former Italy, Chelsea and Inter coach Conte knows both tournament football and the English game well, so is in a good position to predict the outcome for La Gazzetta dello Sport.
The Azzurri squeezed past Spain on penalties in their semi-final, while England needed a dubious spot-kick to get the better of Denmark in extra time.
“Italy fully deserve to be in the Final because they proved themselves more complete a team than any of the opponents they faced, capable of dealing with various different situations, both with and without the ball,” wrote Conte.
“They always tried to maintain their own ideas, identity and style, but were also able to adapt to the physical, technical and tactical qualities of their opponents, finding the best way to get the maximum result.”
Conte has spent all season debating with critics of his Scudetto-winning Inter on whether his team was too ‘negative’ by focusing on the counter-attack, so naturally he was unimpressed by Spain dominating possession in the semi-final.
“The way I see it, dominance means creating scoring opportunities and dangerous situations. In that sense, the Spanish ‘domination’ of Italy was not remotely clear. If possession doesn’t use vertical channels to approach the goal or create one-on-one situations on the wings, then it becomes sterile.
“The xG is more fundamental than possession statistics, because you can keep the ball as long as you like, but if you don’t create chances, don’t shoot and don’t score, you won’t win.”
He went on to explain that Italy merely showed against Spain that they had more weapons in their armoury than the Roja, who were too one-note to make a real impact.
“Italy are tough to beat because we are hardly ever unprepared, we don’t leave spaces and always force complicated approaches.
“We also have that wall formed by Gianluigi Donnarumma, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. I consider Donnarumma to be one of the three best goalkeepers in the world. What can we say of Bonucci and Chiellini? Even after a thousand battles, they still smell blood. Winning mentality, character, strength. In dealing with difficult moments, they are absolutely the top players in their role.”
Conte also analysed Gareth Southgate’s England squad, who conceded only one goal throughout the Euros.
“Unlike Spain, who tended to pass it backwards, they always try to hit you in one-on-one situations. Many praise Harry Kane for his ability to go get the ball and play with the team, such as with the equaliser against Denmark. Of course, he’s good at that too, but it’s in the box where he’s clinical and as a coach, I would always keep him in there, because he’s devastating.
“There are two very physical midfielders like Rice and Phillips, who bring balance, but very few vertical passes, often going for the simple option.
“A weak spot for England is that if their defence is pressed when building out from the back, they aren’t as good as Spain at escaping the press. However, if you are ultra-attacking in your press and they do escape, then watch out for their pace upfront.
“Again, this is when Italy must show their experience at reading the various moments of the game.”
Playing all but one of their games at Wembley is certainly an advantage, but Conte warns the pressure of England’s first major Final since 1966 “could be wind in their sails or an enormous anchor weighing them down.
“We will have fewer fans in the stadium, but more experience than them on the pitch. We know what it means to play Finals. We also know how to win them.”