Euro 2020: Football-mad Italians gear up for big game with England

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“Do the English really put pineapple on pizza?” asks the Italian daily La Repubblica in a piece by its London correspondent. “Rarely,” it concludes, “but the real problem is adding cream to spaghetti carbonara.”

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Supporters of Italy’s national football team celebrate the victory of Italy at the end of UEFA EURO 2020 semi-final football match between Italy and Spain
Photo: AFP/ Alessandra Trucillo

Sunday’s (Monday NZT) Euro final is not just a clash of sport, but of cultures.

“The thing about us Italians is that we are a country of beauty,” said the newspaper Corriere della Sera. “We don’t just score goals, we score beautiful goals.” It added: “There’s no such thing as a badly-dressed Italian, just some Italians who aren’t interested in dressing well.”

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But for all that divides these markedly different countries – few Italians rave about British cuisine, in case you were wondering – there are many similarities.

Football runs through the veins of both nations. While England have been waiting for international football glory since 1966, Italy last won a European title in 1968 and are also impatient for triumph (though two World Cup wins since, in 1982 and 2006, have eased the pain).

And both teams have been revolutionised by their managers, with Gareth Southgate and Roberto Mancini bringing in younger players and laying ghosts of the past to rest – England with its failure to reach an international final for decades and Italy with its non-qualification for the 2018 World Cup, labelled “an apocalypse” by the country’s leading sports newspaper.

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“Mancini is the central man of this Italian miracle,” said Alvaro Moretti, the deputy editor of the daily Il Messaggero and its former sports editor.

“When he took over in 2018, he believed from the start that he would arrive at this point. He’s very charismatic, he’s very elegant. And he decided that his approach would be enjoyment, to bring happiness to the Italian team – and to the Italian people.”

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Italy celebrate after scoring their second goal against Belgium in their Euro 2020 quarterfinal
Photo: LaPresse

That is, perhaps, the overriding feeling in Italy as it watches gli Azzurri (the Blues) go into this final – joy. The first country in the West to be crushed by the Coronavirus pandemic, whose inundated intensive care units forewarned others of what was to come, has seen infection levels drop sharply so as to be able to lift most restrictions and for Italians to watch their team’s triumphant performances in bars.

“I’m even happier about the rebirth of Italy than about the final itself,” said Gianluca Santangeli, sitting in his newspaper kiosk in the Trastevere district of Rome.

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“That people can go out without masks and watch it on big screens is a relief.” As for his prediction? “I believe in fate,” he said. “But I think Italy should play our classic tactics: strong defence and counter-attack, since we’re facing a good England team at home.”

The match has, of course, split loyalties among the many Anglo-Italian couples, including Elisa Sandri, who lives in Brighton with her British partner but is currently back in Rome.

Enjoying a coffee with her old friend, Anna, she joked that she’s had the odd heated discussion over the match with English colleagues but with her partner, “we’ve been watching the games together and cheering for each other, so I think it’ll be fine”.

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“In any case it’ll be a win-win for me,” she added. “I just love the atmosphere here when Italy plays. Everyone comes together, cheers and hugs, you make new friends. I think England might win…but if it goes to penalties, they won’t!”

Shopping for tomatoes at a nearby market, Morosina Zorzi had other concerns.

“The main thing I’m worried about is that my son’s wedding is happening at the same time as the match,” she said.

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“He doesn’t want a big screen at the reception, so I think the guests will be watching it on their phones – and I’m sure some of them will leave to go and watch it.”

She admitted she’s not a football fan but says: “If Italy win I’ll be happy because of the national spirit – though Rome will be a mess with all the partying.”

This proud nation is sure of victory over England in most respects – beaches, food, fashion. But for football-mad Italians, a win might just be the sweetest of all.

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‘Can’t really believe this is happening’

Meanwhile, in England the Queen and Boris Johnson have wished the England side well in the match.

The monarch recalled presenting the World Cup trophy to Bobby Moore in 1966 as she praised the current team’s “spirit, commitment and pride with which you have conducted yourselves”.

And in a letter to the squad, the prime minister said they had “lifted the spirits of the whole country”.

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St George's flags, the national flag of England, flutter on the exterior of number 10, Downing Street in central London

10 Downing St, the residence of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is decorated in the national flag of England
Photo: AFP

The Duke of Cambridge said he “can’t really believe this is happening”.

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Prince William, who is president of the English Football Association, urged the squad to “bring it home” and said the team had already displayed “the very best of England”.

The Queen’s message hailed the “spirit, commitment and pride” of the England players.

She wrote: “Fifty-five years ago I was fortunate to present the World Cup to Bobby Moore and saw what it meant to the players, management and support staff to reach and win the final of a major international football tournament.

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“I want to send my congratulations and that of my family to you all on reaching the final of the European Championships, and send my good wishes for tomorrow with the hope that history will record not only your success but also the spirit, commitment and pride with which you have conducted yourselves.”

In his letter, Mr Johnson told the team they had “already made history” by taking England into the final of a major international competition for the first time in 55 years.

“You have forged a band of brothers whose energy and tenacity and teamwork – and sheer flair – seem to shine in everything you do,” he said.

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“You have lifted the spirits of the whole country, and tomorrow we know you can lift that trophy too.

“We are not just hoping or praying. We believe in you, Gareth, and your incredible squad.

“On behalf of the entire nation, good luck, have a great game – and bring it home!”

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BBC

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