Penalties. It just had to be penalties.

Having grown immeasurably as a football manager and a statesmanlike public figure over recent years, Gareth Southgate might one day consider himself a specialist in exorcisms.

Demons have been slayed from 12 yards and now here are another legion of them to haunt poor Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – the latter remarkably taking the first penalty of his career.

English football, 55 years of hurt and counting, allows these events to stick to the collective consciousness.

When England beat Colombia in a 2018 World Cup shoot-out, Southgate let out a guttural roar; a cathartic celebration to banish memories of his decisive miss against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 96.

Except they needed snuffing out all over again when Germany arrived back at Wembley in the last 16. Then there was all the tension of a Wembley semi-final against Denmark. England's demons arrive in Whac-A-Mole form.

But there was another more subtle and ever-lurking tormentor for Southgate's excellent team as they came agonisingly close to immortality.

 

Dream opening scripted by Southgate

The absence and then avalanche of pre-penalties substitutions brought understandable questions over Southgate's decision-making, but the opening to the match felt like Pinewood Studios transplanted across town – a perfectly scripted demonstration of a coach's every call coming up trumps.

Luke Shaw's quickest goal in any European Championship final gave emphatic answers to all of the pre-match quandaries over Southgate's tactical plan for Italy, effectively ticking off all the of the key plot points like a neatly crafted screenplay.

How was Harry Kane going to deal with the formidable central defensive duo of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci? Would he be effective dropping deep to occupy the Azzurri's slick midfield operators? Before the England captain's tournament took off with that late goal in the last-16 win over Germany, his lack of penalty area involvement became a source of concern and conjecture.

 

He came into his own half to receive a Shaw pass, turned smoothly into space and released Kieran Trippier – opening up the whole pitch and a field of dreams.

Yes, Trippier. The experienced Atletico Madrid defender was introduced in place of livewire Arsenal teenager Saka as Southgate reverted to a 3-4-3. Would that end up being an overly defensive note sounded by the manager, leaving Italy's centre-halves untroubled and undercooked left-back Emerson without examination?

Well, here were England flying at their opponents in the second minute. Kyle Walker, the right-sided centre-back, clattered past Shaw on the overlap like a freight train full of Gatorade. Trippier measured his cross to perfection.

But with this defensive formation and Kane as the deep-lying forward, paying an audacious tribute to his opponents by turning in a fabulous Francesco Totti impersonation throughout he first half, would England have enough players attacking balls into the box? Oh, there was Shaw, up from left wing-back and measuring a superb finish to spark pandemonium in the stands.

Azzurri's pass masters tame Three Lions

Two hours later, the mood music was sharply different as Southgate's men headed into extra time somewhat bedraggled.

Roberto Mancini's decision to remove Ciro Immobile after the centre-forward did 55 minutes of great work in the name of nominative determinism was key. With the electrifying Federico Chiesa leading an attack without a fixed focal point, Italy were a team transformed.

The Juventus forward sent a blistering left-footed drive just wide in a rare moment of first-half defiance from the Azzurri and he remained their main threat. Behind him, Jorginho and Marco Verratti were enjoying Wembley's green expanses amid wearying legs. During the first half, they looked more like tourists trying to shove their way through the impromptu pre-match revelry in Leicester Square.

 

Italy's equaliser came courtesy of the artisans rather than the artists – Chiellini manhandling John Stones at a corner and Bonucci on hand to scramble in the rebound after Jordan Pickford saved from Verratti's diving header.

Southgate changed shape after that leveller, introducing Saka for Trippier. Jordan Henderson followed in place of Declan Rice, whose influence had declined sharply along with that of Mason Mount.

Mancini's in-game intuition, honed through seasons of elite club management, proved more decisive in terms of changing a story told by a final pass count of 823-424 in Italy's favour. Before his thunderous penalty, Harry Maguire made the most England passes with 66. Five Italy players attempted more, with Verratti and Jorginho clocking 119 and 99 respectively.

As Italy's battery of playmakers shuffled into the ascendancy, Phil Foden's injury absence felt cruel for Southgate. For all the exciting talent in his squad, for all England's improvement in terms of game management and tactical flexibility, faced with a technically superior midfield there were problems beyond the footballing capabilities of the men in white.

It felt like Mount remained on the field too long, but Southgate does not have a Verratti or a Jorginho up his sleeve, however effective Rice and Kalvin Phillips have proved over the past month.

 

The world-leading academy system in England and the manner in which it feeds St George's Park suggests those players will come.

Imagine, even five years ago, an attacking midfielder such as Leicester City's James Maddison not being in the England squad because the likes of Jack Grealish, Foden and Mount already are. Talent will continue to bloom. Just think how good Jude Bellingham will be by Qatar 2022.

Midfielders to dictate alongside those who create are the next requirement if a team taking giant strides in the right direction are to make the final step towards glory and away from those gruesome trials by combat from 12 yards.

Harry Kane said the hurt of England's penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final would stay with his team-mates throughout their careers, but urged those who missed like Bukayo Saka to hold their heads up high.

After the Wembley showpiece finished 1-1, Kane scored England's first penalty of the shoot-out but Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Saka all failed to convert from the spot.

That left England to reflect on a missed opportunity to end their 55-year wait for a major trophy, but Kane insisted Gareth Southgate's team are moving in the right direction.

Kane told BBC Sport: "We couldn't have given more, the boys couldn't have given more. Penalties are obviously the worst feeling in the world when you lose. It wasn't our night.

"It's been a fantastic tournament and we should be proud, hold our heads up high. Of course it's going to hurt now, it's going to hurt for a while but we're on the right track and we're building. Hopefully we can progress from this next year.

"Obviously we got off to the perfect start. Maybe dropped a little bit too deep. Sometimes when you score that early it's easy to try soak up the pressure and hold onto that.

"They had a lot of possession but to be fair we looked fairly in control. They didn't create too many chances. They got their breakthrough from the set-piece and then after that it was probably 50-50.

"In extra time we grew into the game, had a few half-chances, and then obviously penalties is penalties. We went through our process, the boys did everything they could and it wasn't our night.

"You've just got to hold your heads up high. Fantastic tournament. These things can happen. Penalty shoot-out you go through a process, put it where you want to put it, but anyone can miss a penalty."

Kane was seen consoling Saka at the final whistle and he underlined the togetherness of Southgate's squad and their ambitions to achieve highly at the World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

The 27-year-old Tottenham striker is yet to win a major trophy in his career, but insisted he is surrounded by players with a winning mentality in the England squad.

"We win together, we lose together," said Kane. "We'll learn, we'll grow from it, and it'll give us even more motivation to do well in the World Cup next year.

"We should be extremely proud as a group of what we've achieved. We're all winners and want to win, and it'll probably hurt for the rest of our careers, but that's football.

"We've progressed well from Russia [2018 World Cup, where England reached the semi-finals], and now it's about continuing that.

"We've got a great squad, loads of great players hungry for more football like this. All we can do is build and learn, and hopefully go into next year in a better way."

Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini insists his side were deserved winners in Sunday's Euro 2020 final against England after dominating from the moment they fell behind.

The Azzurri recovered from Luke Shaw's strike after one minute and 57 seconds – the earliest ever European Championship final goal – to win the competition for a second time.

Leonardo Bonucci levelled up for Italy with 67 minutes played, becoming the oldest scorer in a Euros final, and it was Roberto Mancini's side who prevailed 3-2 on penalties for their sixth major tournament title.

England had just 34.4 per cent of the ball, the Three Lions' lowest figure at Wembley since drawing 2-2 with Spain in November 2016.

Italy also outshot their opponents 19 to six across the 120 minutes and Chiellini felt his side were good value for their famous victory in London.

"We won, I think deservedly," he told RAI Sport. "We felt something magical in the air. We'd been saying it since the start of May and we deserve it, all of Italy deserves it.

"It was an incredible sensation. Thank you to everyone who was part of this group over three years and we dedicate it to all those players who are watching from home too.

"They key was always to play football and enjoy ourselves. We wanted to control the game, to hold possession.

"Despite getting that punch in the face within two minutes, we dominated the rest of the match and wanted it at all costs."

 

Gianluigi Donnarumma was Italy's shoot-out hero with two saves, including the decisive stop from Bukayo Saka's attempt to end the Azzurri's 53-year wait to lift the coveted trophy again.

That is the longest gap between championships in the tournament history, surpassing Spain's 44-year wait from 1964 to 2008.

Donnarumma was mobbed by his team-mates at full-time and was hailed by skipper Chiellini, who compared the 22-year-old to the great Gianluigi Buffon.

"We had Gigione! We've gone from Gigi to Gigio," Chiellini said. "It was right to win this way. We are all so happy and can't wait to celebrate with all the Italians tomorrow."

Italy are the first side in European Championship history to win two shoot-outs in a single edition of the competition, having also gone the distance against Spain in the semi-finals.

It marks an incredible turnaround for the Azzurri, who failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 but are now a national record 34 matches without defeat.

Mancini has overseen that long-running streak and was in tears when interviewed at the end of the game at Wembley.

"The lads are marvellous. I don't know what more to say. It's important for all the people and all the fans," Mancini told RAI Sport.

"England did well. We conceded the goal straight away and struggled, but then dominated from there on in.

"We are happy that we played well when winning the game. I hope the supporters are celebrating right now. We're happy now. That's all that matters."

Gianluigi Donnarumma was Italy's hero as he saved from Bukayo Saka to clinch a 3-2 penalty shootout victory over England after a 1-1 draw in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley. 

Jordan Pickford saved two of Italy's spot-kicks, yet it was his counterpart who came up with the goods to clinch the Azzurri's second European Championship title. 

It was a night that started so well for England, with Luke Shaw scoring the quickest goal in a Euro final. 

Yet mounting Italy pressure told when Leonardo Bonucci scored midway through the second half, and after late substitutes Marcus Rashford hit the post and Jadon Sancho failed to beat Donnarumma in the shootout, Saka fell foul of Italy's goalkeeper as England suffered heartbreak on home soil.

Leonardo Bonucci made history when he scored Italy's equaliser against England on Sunday, becoming the oldest player to score in a European Championship final.

The Juventus centre-back, aged 34 years and 71 days, netted from close range after 67 minutes at Wembley to cancel out Luke Shaw's early strike.

Bonucci, who made his Italy debut in 2010, became the second-oldest player for a European side to score at any major tournament, after Nils Liedholm (35y 264d) for Sweden against Brazil at the 1958 World Cup.

He was making his 18th European Championship appearance - the most of any Italian player, overtaking Gianluigi Buffon's 17.

England wing-back Luke Shaw scored the fastest goal in a European Championship final with his strike inside two minutes against Italy.

Shaw got on the end of a Kieran Trippier cross at the far post and thumped a volley past Gianluigi Donnarumma to give Gareth Southgate's side an early lead in Sunday's clash at Wembley.

The goal was Shaw's first for England on his 16th appearance and was timed at one minute and 57 seconds, surpassing the previous record held by Chus Pereda for Spain against the Soviet Union in 1964 (05:04)

It was also England's fastest goal in a European Championship match, 17 seconds quicker than Alan Shearer's effort against Germany in 1996.

Shaw has been a key player in the Three Lions' run to the final on home soil, having also assisted three goals prior to the Italy showdown. In fact, only Cristiano Ronaldo (six) and Patrik Schick (five) have been directly involved in more goals at Euro 2020 than Shaw.

 

UEFA has released a statement confirming that the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy is set to go ahead despite disruption caused by fans jumping perimeter barriers in the build-up to kick-off.

Videos of supporters appearing to break through perimeters set up by stewards at Wembley Stadium have been widely shared across social media prior to Sunday's game.

However, UEFA insists that no fan has managed to enter the stadium without a ticket and so the game should take place as scheduled.

UEFA's statement read: "Fans have been jumping over barriers but there has been no access to the stadium. No concern that any protocol will come into place in which the stadium will be shut down.

"There is no concern this final will not go ahead."

A spokesperson for the Football Association said: "We are dealing with an incident that occurred at the outer security perimeter area of the stadium, with support from police.

"Safety measures were quickly activated in the relevant areas and there were no security breaches of people without tickets getting inside the stadium."

UEFA have released a statement confirming that the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy is set to go ahead despite disruption caused by fans jumping perimeter barriers in the build-up to kick-off.

Videos of supporters appearing to break through perimeters set up by stewards at Wembley Stadium have been widely shared across social media prior to Sunday's game.

However, UEFA insist that no fan has managed to enter the stadium without a ticket and so the game should take place as scheduled.

UEFA's statement read: "Fans have been jumping over barriers but there has been no access to the stadium. No concern that any protocol will come into place in which the stadium will be shut down.

"There is no concern this final will not go ahead."

A spokesperson for the Football Association said: "We are dealing with an incident that occurred at the outer security perimeter area of the stadium, with support from police.

"Safety measures were quickly activated in the relevant areas and there were no security breaches of people without tickets getting inside the stadium."

Kieran Trippier returns as Gareth Southgate makes one change to his England starting line-up to face Italy in the final of Euro 2020.

The Atletico Madrid defender takes the place of forward Bukayo Saka as the Three Lions return to the back three that saw them through against Germany in the last 16, while Phil Foden has missed out of the squad altogether due to injury – the Manchester City star having missed training on Saturday due to an unspecified injury.

The change opens up a place in a likely front three for Mason Mount, who previously operated in central midfield in wins over Ukraine and Denmark.

England are otherwise unaltered, with four-goal forward Harry Kane – now the country's joint-leading goalscorer at major tournaments – leading the line and a familiar midfield axis of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice named.

As for Italy, they name an unchanged starting XI from their penalty shootout win over Spain in the semi-final.

Federico Chiesa starts on the right flank of a 4-3-3 formation despite pre-match suggestions that he might miss out through injury.

And Roberto Mancini's men once again count on defensive warriors Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci as they earn their 112th and 109th caps respectively.

England: Pickford, Trippier, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Shaw, Phillips, Rice, Mount, Kane, Sterling.

Italy: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson, Barella, Jorginho, Verratti, Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne.

Gareth Southgate has offered heartfelt thanks to England fans for their support ahead of a first major tournament final appearance in 55 years.

The Three Lions have played five of their six games en route to the showpiece fixture of Euro 2020 in front of a partisan crowd at Wembley Stadium.

And they will contest a sixth at their home ground on Sunday when they take on Italy aiming to win a first piece of silverware since the 1966 World Cup.

Ahead of that showdown, Southgate has placed on his record his appreciation for the backing he and his team have received both from the stands and further afield.

He said: "I just wanted to take the time to say thank you to everybody for the incredible support we've received throughout this tournament. 

"We hope that we've represented you in the right way, we hope that you've enjoyed watching us play. 

"I'm very grateful to all of the players and in the incredible staff I've got with me that we've been able to get to our first final for 55 years, but of course we know now we've got to deliver for you. 

"We'll be doing everything we can, your support and energy has given us a huge lift and I know it will on Sunday."

Raheem Sterling should be named player of the tournament if England beat Italy to win Euro 2020, according to Jamie Carragher.

With the 26-year-old having rounded off last season with just one goal from his last 16 appearances for Manchester City, it was suggested that his England starting place might be under threat.

However, he has come alive at the tournament, scoring the Three Lions' first three goals of the tournament (two of which were winners), grabbing an assist, and winning the penalty that booked a place in the final.

And former England international Carragher believes those contributions have marked him out as the star man of Euro 2020.

"Nobody has been able to cope with Sterling in this tournament," he told Sky Sports. "If England go on to win he will win player of the tournament – he has been outstanding.

"His position was questioned before the tournament after not having his best season at Man City but from what we have seen Sterling always has to be in this England team.

"The pace he provides, the goals he provides. He has become a major goal threat under Gareth Southgate. 

"We can talk about how Italy can stop him, but if he makes runs in behind the centre-backs and the right full-back then he can be a threat.

"An obvious change at some stage would be Jack Grealish coming on and playing down the left and Sterling going down the right to have a go at Emerson from Chelsea, who has not played a lot of football this season.

"He is the one who can cause Italy some real problems."

 

England have yet to concede an open-play goal at this summer's tournament - thanks in no small part to the work of a midfield shield comprised of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice.

And Carragher thinks their role will be key again in the final if Gareth Southgate's side are to get over the line.

He continued: "Midfield is key for England, if England don’t get the centre of midfield right, that is where they could have a huge problem.

"Italy are really strong through the centre of the pitch – certainly at centre-back and central midfield, there is a lot of onus on England's midfield three in this game. 

"If they perform and can get after the Italians midfield then England have certainly got enough in the attacking areas of the pitch to win the game.

"But midfield is a real strength of Italy so that is where England have really got to get on top and make it difficult, so it will be up to Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Mason Mount in there.

"A lot has been made about the centre-back partnership – outstanding,  legendary players for their country and for Juventus [but] you shouldn’t forget how old they are though.

"I think England can out run them basically in this game, the energy from the bench will be vital as it was in the Denmark game. 

"It will be really tight game – I think we are looking at the best two teams in this tournament, certainly on form, so I think it’s the right final."

 

Gary Neville has urged the FA to tie down their "greatest asset" Gareth Southgate ahead of England's first appearance in a major tournament final in 55 years.

The Three Lions are out to win the European Championship for the first time in their history on Sunday when they face Italy at Wembley Stadium.

Win or lose, this run to the final is the latest mark of the progress made by international football's perennial underachievers, who also made it to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup under Southgate.

And Neville believes English football chiefs must do all they can to keep the man who has masterminded these recent successes in charge for as long as possible.

He told Sky Sports: "I said it four or five weeks ago that I thought that Gareth Southgate is our greatest asset and I'm still absolutely of that opinion. 

"There is nobody in this country that knows international football better than Gareth Southgate in terms of tournament football and that's got the ability to coach. 

"Many of us have been to many tournaments, but he's then been in the U21s.

"He's been in the system, he knows exactly what it's like to coach in the system of the FA, understands the politics and the way in which the FA works and accepts that and [doesn't] make it a problem, which many managers in the past have. 

"All those things that are difficult to contend with, the media, the handling of players, the club v country stuff - he's seen all that before in his playing career and U21s career and all those things that he's seen happen wrong before he's been able to put right through his experiences as England manager and that's why he is our greatest asset. 

"We should try and keep him for as long as we possibly can, that's not to say we'll win [against Italy], that's not to say we'll win in the next tournament or do well in the next two tournaments but I genuinely don't believe there is anyone who has got the experience, knowledge and capability to perform for England like he has."

 

A raucous atmosphere is sure to greet England as they step out onto the Wembley turf aiming to secure their first trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup at the same stadium.

But Neville expects the players to be better prepared for the emotion of the occasion after experiencing similar during their semi-final win over Denmark.

He continued: "It'd be interesting to know whether the pressure impacted the players in the first half an hour of the game against Denmark because the first 20 minutes after kick-off - it was absolutely mesmerising, spine-tingling to the point where it had an impact upon us [in the stadium].

"No England player would have seen that since Euro '96 so I can't believe that didn't have an impact on them in the first half an hour.

"They were in a special place on Wednesday but I think because of that they will be used to it and will be better prepared for what's going to happen [in the final].

"Germany was good but Wednesday was absolutely off the scale against Denmark. It was brilliant."

 

Gareth Southgate could spring a surprise by starting Jadon Sancho instead of Bukayo Saka for England in the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

That is the view of former England defender Gary Neville, who believes the spot on the right wing that was filled by Saka in the semi-final win over Denmark is the only position up for grabs.

Neville would have been tempted to play Marcus Rashford if the Manchester United forward had been in better form.

Instead he believes another soon-to-be United player Sancho, who started the quarter-final against Ukraine in Saka's absence, could be the man who gets the nod if 19-year-old is indeed left out.

Saka has had an impressive tournament for England and Neville acknowledges it could be an "unpopular" decision.

He feels it would be easier for Southgate to pick an unchanged side and then take Saka off in the second half as he did in the extra-time triumph in the last four.

The Arsenal youngster has been put forward for many press interviews prior to the Italy clash, but Neville thinks that could be a red herring.

 

"There is only one possible change and that's Saka," he said to ITV Sport.

"I know that would possibly be an unpopular thing to say.

"He may say [to Saka] go for 60 minutes and we'll get you off - which he's done before - he may say that and go with the same team. 

"But I just wonder whether he might bring someone else in.

"Actually putting him up for interviews before the final makes me think he might not be playing.

"If Rashford was in form I'd go Rashford-Sterling just to get in behind [Giorgio] Chiellini and [Leonardo] Bonucci but Rashford hasn't been in the greatest of form. 

"I would think it would be Sancho if Saka doesn't play.

"I think you have to play two of the quicker ones, so it would be Saka, Sancho or Rashford with Sterling on the other side."

 

Phil Foden missed training on Saturday with a knock and the Manchester City star is the only injury doubt for England.

While he called the development "a blow", Neville believes England can cope due to their strength in depth, particularly in the attacking positions.

He told Sky Sports: "It would be a blow for Phil Foden personally and for the team because he is an important part of those six or seven forward players that we have that float around Harry Kane.

"One of the great strengths in this tournament is that you can start Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling and bring on Jack Grealish or Jadon Sancho or Phil Foden and not really drop in quality that much.

"We have got an exceptional amount of talent in those positions.

"We are better in the latter half of games, the danger against Italy is that if we do start badly in that first half an hour then the Italians will punish us more than Denmark did.

"You don’t want to be behind to a team with the defensive record that they have.

"It's important that Foden is fit for him personally but if not then an injury is an injury, it's important that we have a lot of players who are fit in those positions going into the last 20 minutes of games which has become critical for us."

Gareth Southgate insists Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips will not be fazed about going up against Italy's much-lauded midfield, pointing out they coped well despite their relative inexperience against two modern greats in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Italy have enjoyed almost universal acclaim for their performances at Euro 2020, with their run to Sunday's final seeing them extend their unbeaten run to 33 matches, a national record.

A lot of the praise has been centred around their midfield trio of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho and Marco Verratti, the latter two in particular.

Jorginho carries out an important function as their deep-lying playmaker, and his influence is highlighted by the fact he has completed more passes (390) and had more touches of the ball (503) than any of his team-mates, while his 38 instances of regaining possession and instigating passing sequences is 10 more than anyone else in the tournament.

As for Verratti, the Paris Saint-Germain star's 12 key passes is bettered by only Kevin De Bruyne and he leads the way in terms of involvements in open-play sequences that end in a shot, averaging 9.2 every 90 minutes (players with at least 165 mins played), which paints a picture of not only great creativity but also significant impact generally in Italy's build-up play.

 

Yet Italy struggled in that area against Spain and were subsequently overrun at times, their 0.8 xG to La Roja's 1.5 proof they were somewhat fortunate to get past Luis Enrique's side via a penalty shoot-out.

As such, Spain essentially highlighted that to dull Italy's strengths they need to win the midfield battle, and Southgate feels his players in that area are up to the challenge.

"I think when you're coaching a team, you watch everything and you have to decide the most important information for players, not flood them with too much, adapt the game to our strengths and highlight potential weaknesses," Southgate told reporters ahead of England's first major final in 55 years.

 

"Of course there are fantastic players all through the Italy team, they've a good tactical plan, an experienced coach and an amazing record over last 30 games or so, we are very aware of that.

"But players like our two midfielders [Rice and Phillips], they've played beyond their experience in this tournament and they've already played against Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, so they've had to adapt to these midfield players with great European experience and they've done that brilliantly.

"We're different, we have our own strengths, own style of play, which is geared towards the strengths of our players.

"That's the beauty of football, every team has different strengths, we've tried to play to ours and adapt to our strengths and we need to do the same [on Sunday]."

Another Italian double act that has been showered with praise is centre-back pairing Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose combined 33 European Championship appearances is four more than England's entire back five that started the semi-final against Denmark.

While they may not possess the same ball-carrying ease as England's Harry Maguire and John Stones, Chiellini remains a formidable scrapper even at the age of 36, with his 71.4 duels success bettered by only six defenders (involved in 10 or more duels). And Bonucci continues to read the game well, his haul of 12 interceptions being the most of all defenders at Euro 2020.

Together, there is not much they do not possess, and Harry Kane is relishing the chance to go up against them.

"They're two amazing defenders with great experience over their careers of big matches," Kane said.

"I've been fortunate to play against them before, and as a striker I want to play against the best and they're definitely up there."

 

Kane himself has had an intriguing tournament given he was widely criticised for a slow start that saw him fail to score until the knockout phase, yet he now has four heading into the final.

It is a curious change from his performance at the 2018 World Cup, when he scored five in the group and only one in the knockouts, and he suggested that may be by design.

"Obviously don't get me wrong, I'd have loved to have scored three or four in the group and got off to fantastic start and gone from there, but it was more about the energy," he said.

"I felt in the World Cup, it was such an amazing start, scoring in the last minute against Tunisia, a lot of energy after that game was used in terms of the emotion, and then against Panama it was the same, because it was an amazing game and I got a hat-trick.

"Again, there's a lot of talk and mental energy [expended] – Colombia was the same. Not just physically but mentally I felt I just lost a little towards the latter stages, so going into this one with a bit more experience it's about not getting too carried away, whether I score or not.

"Thankfully it's worked out pretty well, but I guess that's part of the learning curve and gaining that experience, hopefully I've enough left to finish the job."

Harry Kane has rejected the suggestion England are too nice ahead of the Euro 2020 final, with Gareth Southgate's squad ready to test their mettle once again after "knocking down barriers" to set up a showdown with Italy.

England will be aiming to win a first major international trophy since the 1966 World Cup, a 55-year-drought during which they have never made it beyond the last four at any tournament.

However, Kane's winner in extra time against Denmark on Wednesday secured a place in this year's European Championship showpiece – and they will have home advantage again when they face the Azzurri at Wembley Stadium.

Southgate and his players have ended the nation's long, at times painful wait to reach another final, but Kane made clear on the eve of the contest that being "humble and respectful" as a group does not suggest they lack the ruthless edge required to get the job done on Sunday.

Asked during his pre-match media duties if England are too nice, he replied: "No, I don't think so

"That's the personality of a lot of the players in the squad, they are humble and respectful, but we have a focus and determination to win, we've shown that in last tournament and this, knocking down barriers that have been there for a long time.

"In modern football there isn't so much mind games before, getting too hyped or out of control.

"We have a real vision of where we want to be and without that and our winning mentality we wouldn't be where we are now."

 

Southgate played for England when they lost in a Euros semi-final to Germany at the old Wembley back in 1996, when the song 'Three Lions' by English comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner became synonymous with the tournament.

The lyrics reference the failures to replicate the success enjoyed by Alf Ramsey's side over West Germany in 1966 and it has remained popular ever since, particularly when the national team are in action at a major event.

While Southgate has mixed emotions towards the song – it was his missed penalty that proved costly in the shoot-out against the Germans 25 years ago – he is delighted with the support his players have received this year.

"I didn't want to listen to it for 15 years because it was too painful for me," Southgate, who confirmed Phil Foden is a doubt to face Italy due to a knock, said to the media.

"You have to know the English to understand our humour and our humour is probably quite unique. It's certainly not arrogant, the lyrics are making fun of ourselves and what's gone wrong before.

"It's always appeared at tournaments, we have a couple of replacements that seem to have come through now, which is nice to move things forward.

"The atmosphere in the ground is great. When we started three four years ago, we had people throwing paper planes, they weren't behind the team and there was an apathy towards the team, but now the energy is fantastic.

"It's so important for the players, they need that warmth and it's definitely helped inspire us in this tournament."

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