Italy went into Euro 2020 as dark horses to win the tournament — but nobody is underestimating the Azzurri now.
Roberto Mancini’s men go into Sunday’s Wembley showdown in scintillating form, as they look to continue a staggering 33-match unbeaten run that stretches all the way back to October 2018.
Ahead of the final, we’ve crunched the numbers and analysed the tactics to get under the hood of what makes this Italy side tick.
How did they get here?
Italy’s tournament began in barnstorming fashion as they kicked off Euro 2020 by thumping Turkey 3-0 in Rome.
The Azzurri took advantage of having all three of their Group A fixtures on home soil by picking up maximum points and finishing top — comfortably beating Switzerland 3-0 before a rotated team edged past Wales 1-0.
Things were not quite as straightforward in the round of 16 when the Italians needed extra-time to see off Austria 2-1, but Mancini’s side have proved their mettle against tough opposition in the tournament’s latter stages.
They beat hotly-tipped Belgium 2-1 in the quarter-finals, before a 4-2 penalty shootout win against Spain sent them through to the final.
Gone are the Italy of old, wedded to ‘catenaccio’ and prioritising defensive solidity over attacking prowess.
The Azzurri’s 2020 vintage is far more offensive-minded and no team at the tournament has scored more than their 15 goals.
Mancini has consistently set up in a 4-3-3 formation with Domenico Berardi or Federico Chiesa playing wide on the right, while Lorenzo Insigne cuts in from the left side to join Ciro Immobile in attack.
Nicolo Barella is adept at pushing forward from midfield and attacking left-back Leonardo Spinazzola was one of the stars of Euro 2020 until his injury against Belgium. His replacement Emerson Palmieri is not quite as dynamic on the left flank.
But Italy have not lost their famous defensive resolve either — only England have conceded fewer than their three goals against at the European Championship.
Crunching the numbers
Italy top the table when it comes to key actions — an action that leads to a goal attempt from a team-mate — with an average of 15 per 90 minutes played.
That is testament to the Azzurri’s attacking pedigree, as is the fact that they have attempted (149.33) and completed (123) more passes into the final third per 90 than everyone bar Spain and Germany.
Defensively, Mancini’s outfit are always keen to win the ball high up the pitch and are in the top five teams at the tournament when it comes to possession regains in the opposition half (14 per 90).
He may not have started half of Italy’s games at Euro 2020, but few players can match Chiesa’s impact in the competition’s knockout stages.
It was the Juventus star’s strike that broke the deadlock in extra-time against Austria, when a sublime touch allowed him to take the ball onto his left foot and drill it past goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann from a tight angle on the right.
The 23-year-old then went one better against Spain in the semi-final — picking up the ball on the edge of the box before curling a sumptuous effort into the bottom right corner to give Italy the lead.
Despite Italy’s impressive performances throughout the European Championship, they were somewhat fortunate to get past a Spain side who had more shots (21 vs 12) and dominated possession (70.1% vs 29.9%) at Wembley.
La Roja’s approach could well be the template to follow when it comes to getting the better of Italy.
They set up with a false nine in Dani Olmo, who was able to drop deep and get on the ball, helping Spain to control the tempo and ultimately conjure more chances than the Azzurri.
Luis Enrique’s side were not able to take those opportunities — but they may have exposed a potential route to success against the Italians ahead of Sunday’s final.