England will hope to end a 55-year major-tournament trophy drought on Sunday when they meet Italy in the Euro 2020 final, while Roberto Mancini is eyeing the crowning achievement of his transformational reign.

The Three Lions have not even qualified for a final since winning the 1966 World Cup and will be competing in their first European Championship decider. It will be Italy's third this century, though it is a competition they have not won in 53 years.

Although Italy's performances up to the final have generally attracted widespread acclaim, with the Azzurri stretching their unbeaten record to 33 matches, England will once again have the advantage as hosts.

England have won 15 of their previous 17 matches at Wembley, while seven of the previous 10 instances of a European nation competing in a major tournament final as hosts (World Cup/Euros) have ended in victory for the home side.

 

As much as anything, Gareth Southgate has cherished the chance to bring joy to fans so far at the tournament, but he is not kidding himself that adulation is a guarantee.

"I know we can make people's lives happier," he told the Telegraph. "It's a wonderful privilege to be able to make a difference, but if you get any of those bits wrong it can fall down and it's no use being able to speak about areas of society.

"If we don't get the tactical bit right, the selections right, if we don't manage the players the right way, the house falls down. I know now this is a lovely period in many ways, but we've got to get Sunday right."

Nevertheless, Italy have confounded their doubters every step of the way at Euro 2020, and Mancini, having taken over his national team in the wake of World Cup qualification failure three years ago, is a step away from completing one the great turnarounds in international football.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy – Marco Verratti

While Jorginho has arguably been the Italian midfielder to garner the most applause at Euro 2020, Verratti has been no less integral when on the pitch. Only Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (15) has started more open-play sequences ending in a shot than him (nine), while Kevin De Bruyne (13) is the sole individual with more chances created (12 for Verratti). He is not just important to Italy's flow in possession, but he also has a vital role as a creator – if England find a way to keep him quiet, their own title hopes will surely improve considerably.

England – Harry Kane

In a sense, Spain gave England something resembling a blueprint of how to nullify some of Italy's strengths. One aspect was Dani Olmo deployed as a false nine, with La Roja trying not to directly engage the Italian centre-backs while also creating a midfield overload. If any striker in world football is equipped to carry out a similar role, it's Kane. The Tottenham star remarkably got 12 open-play assists from 3.6 xA (expected assists) in the 2020-21 Premier League campaign, with as many as six coming from deeper positions. Granted, his over-performance of 8.4 suggests he benefited from some luck or good finishing, but it also proves how effective he can be.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- Between them, England (2.2) and Italy (2.3) have faced fewer shots on target per game than any other sides at Euro 2020. England also have the lowest expected goals against tally in the competition so far (3.2).

- Italy have had 12 shots and scored three goals as a result of a high turnover (open play sequences beginning 40metres or less from opponents' goal line) at Euro 2020, more than any other side.

- England's 2-1 win over Denmark in the semi-final was their eighth win in a major tournament match under Southgate, moving him level with Alf Ramsey for joint most victories by an England manager across the two competitions.

- This is the third major tournament final to be held at Wembley Stadium. The previous two were both won in extra time, with England beating Germany in the 1966 World Cup, and Die Mannschaft then defeating the Czech Republic in Euro 1996.

- England are the 13th different nation to feature in a European Championship final (counting Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic as one) – just three of the previous 12 lost their first ever final in the competition: Yugoslavia (1960), Belgium (1980) and Portugal (2004).  

Harry Kane knows England must make home advantage count as the Three Lions aim to win a major tournament for only the second time.

England beat Denmark on Wednesday courtesy of Kane's extra-time goal to progress to their maiden European Championship final, and their first in any competition since 1966.

Kane's goal also saw him equal Gary Lineker as England's leading scorer in major tournaments, with 10.

Italy, playing in their 10th major tournament final (six at the World Cup, four at the Euros), stand in the way of Gareth Southgate's team, however.

The Three Lions will have the crowd firmly on side at Wembley on Sunday, though, and Kane – who stated winning with England would rank above winning a trophy at club level – is out to make history.

"It would mean everything to me and this team, for sure. I've said before: winning something with your nation would surpass anything you can do at club level, so we have that opportunity," he told UEFA.com.

"It's been a long time since our country was in a final, so we'll just have to grab it with both hands now.

"To be playing at Wembley makes the occasion even bigger and even more special. To have our own fans there singing and edging us on – the energy is going to be amazing. So there will be no better place to win our second major trophy than at Wembley again.

"It's a great moment in our history as a nation. The excitement is going to be through the roof; I'm sure there'll be a few nerves as well. It's just about going out there and feeding off all that energy in the stadium and the crowd and trying to use that to our advantage.

"Now we have that opportunity to create even more history, and [for] our parents and family members who've never seen England in a final before – and I know that goes across the whole country.

"It's a special moment to be in and if we can finish the job and win, then obviously we'll be remembered in history for the rest of our lives. That's the challenge we have, so we'll have to go and take it."

 

England are unbeaten in their last 12 matches in all competitions (W11 D1), keeping 10 clean sheets and conceding just two goals in the process.

In fact, they have conceded just one goal so far at Euro 2020, with four of the seven previous sides to concede just once in a European Championship tournament winning the trophy (Soviet Union 1960, Italy 1968, Germany 1972 and Spain 2012).

Italy, though, come into Sunday's game  – which sees the two sides to have faced the fewest shots at the tournament meet – on the back of a record-setting 33-match unbeaten run.

"It'll be a tough game. Italy are a great side. They've got a great a history of winning major tournaments as well," Kane added.

"They've got great experience in the team, they've got great individuals, but collectively they have a real togetherness. It's going to be a tough battle, but you know we've got more than enough in our team to win."

One fitness concern for Southgate could be Phil Foden, with the Manchester City attacker – who started the first two games of England's campaign – sitting out training on Saturday due to a minor knock.

Giorgio Chiellini is a big admirer of England striker Harry Kane but the veteran defender says Italy will have to be wary of threats from all over the pitch in Sunday's Euro 2020 final. 

Italy booked their spot in the final with a penalty shoot-out win over Spain on Tuesday, while England reached their first ever European Championship final thanks to Kane's extra-time winner against Denmark a day later. 

After a slow start to Euro 2020, Tottenham striker Kane has netted four times in the three knockout rounds and a goal in the final will see him become England's outright highest goalscorer in major tournaments (currently 10, level with Gary Lineker). 

The Three Lions captain scored six times at World Cup 2018, repeating Lineker's feat from 1986 of winning the golden boot. 

He is behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick (both five) in the scoring charts at Euro 2020, with another tournament golden boot firmly in his sights.

Chiellini has been superb for the Azzurri throughout their run to the final and the Juventus defender knows he will have to be at his best to keep a resurgent Kane quiet. 

"It will be tough, extremely tough," he told Euro2020.com. 

"I have always liked Harry Kane a lot. I still remember one of his first matches with England, when we played against them in Turin [on Kane's full England debut, a 1-1 draw in 2015]. Even then he made a huge impression on me. 

"I was lucky enough to play against him in a game against Tottenham. He knows how to play deep and how to play a defence-splitting pass for a team-mate. He scores with his head and from long and close range."

 

England's abundance of talent in attack means Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish have managed just one start between them. 

Despite talking up Kane’s talents, Chiellini has warned his Azzurri team-mates to be on high alert should any of that trio make an appearance on Sunday.

"England are clearly not just Kane because they have amazing players on both wings and their substitutes could all be in the starting XI of a team that wins this competition," he added.

"Players like Grealish,Sancho, Rashford, [Dominic] Calvert-Lewin, [Phil] Foden were all on the bench but they're top players, including [Jordan] Henderson. 

"It will be a great match. Neither team will be afraid but both will have a lot of respect for each other."

The clash will be Italy's 10th major tournament final (six World Cup, four European Championship), with only Germany (14) having played in more among European nations. 

Roberto Mancini's men won the European Championship in 1968, but have lost their subsequent two final appearances in the competition (2000 and 2012).

Harry Kane says for once it went England's way after scoring the winner in extra-time to book their place at the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

England won 2-1 over Denmark with Kane scoring an 104th-minute winner, firing home the rebound after his penalty was initially saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

The opportunity came after England were forced to come from behind following Mikkel Damsgaard's spectacular 30th-minute free-kick.

England equalised from a Simon Kjaer own goal prior to half-time, before Raheem Sterling won a penalty in extra-time after slight contact from Joakim Maehle.

The win secures England's first appearance at a European Championship final, after a history of inglorious failures and cruel exits at major events, headlined by Gareth Southgate's missed penalty at Euro 96 and Diego Maradona's 'Hand of God' goal at the 1986 World Cup.

"For once it went our way today," Kane told ITV. "Credit to the boys, what a performance.

"We responded really well to going 1-0 down, we controlled the game, dug deep in extra-time, got the penalty, and when it’s your night, it’s your night."

Kane would have felt a moment of panic as his penalty low to Schmeichel's left was saved by the Danish custodian, but the Tottenham forward had the opportunity to lash home from the loose ball.

"I chose the side I was going to go, it wasn't the best penalty I've ever taken," Kane told uefa.com. "Sometimes you miss and it falls your way, and thankfully it did today."

Kane reiterated manager Southgate's sentiment that there was one step to go as England seek to end their continental title wait.

The Three Lions will take on one-time winners Italy in Sunday's final at Wembley Stadium.

"We know it's going to be a very tough game against Italy," Kane said. "We've had a great tournament so far. One more game to go at home, and we can't wait."

England are through to their first European Championship final after recovering from a goal down to beat Denmark 2-1 after extra-time at Wembley on Wednesday.

Like Tuesday's semi-final between Italy and Spain, which the Azzurri won on penalties, the game in London could not be decided in the 90 minutes.

Mikkel Damsgaard had given Denmark the lead with a fine free-kick on the half-hour mark, but Simon Kjaer put into his own net before half-time and Harry Kane scored England's first extra-time goal since Euro 2004 to send the Three Lions through.

Following another dramatic contest in what has been an entertaining tournament, Stats Perform looks at the key data takeaways from Wednesday's action.

England's clean sheet record ended

Jordan Pickford set a record for the most minutes of any England keeper without conceding, overtaking Gordon Banks' previous best of 720 minutes between May and July 1966, but that impressive defensive streak was ended by Damsgaard soon after.

The Sampdoria winger scored the first direct free-kick of the tournament so far with an impressive effort that caught out Pickford, becoming the youngest Danish goalscorer in Euros knockout history at 21 years and four days.

 

Another own goal scored

In attempting to prevent Bukayo Saka's cross from being turned in by Raheem Sterling under the crossbar, Denmark skipper Kjaer put into his own net for the 11th own goal of Euro 2020 – two more than every other European Championship combined.

That was the first own goal England have benefitted from at the European Championships, but they could not push on and find a winner in normal time as the game went to an additional 30 minutes.

Kane the hero for England

With Denmark tiring and England turning the screw, the pressure told in the 104th minute when Sterling was brought down in the box by Joakim Maehle.

Kane's penalty was saved by Kasper Schmeichel, but the England skipper converted from the follow-up to make it 15 goals scored against the Danish keeper in his senior career – more than he has managed against any other stopper.

With that goal, Kane went level with Gary Lineker as the Three Lions' all-time leading scorer in major tournaments, six of those coming in the 2018 World Cup and the other four at this year's Euros.

 

Three Lions' long wait for a final over

Never before had England recovered from behind to win a Euros knockout match, while not since a 3-2 win over Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals had they done so in any major tournament.

Sunday will mark their first European Championship or World Cup final since 1966, with that 55-year gap the longest between final appearances in the history of the two competitions.

As for Denmark, they are the fifth side to both win three games and lose three games in the same edition of a Euros or World Cup after Yugoslavia (World Cup 1962), Austria (World Cup 1978), Bulgaria (World Cup 1994) and England (World Cup 2018).

 

 

John Stones extended his arm and held up a palm. Stop. Breathe.

It was time for Jordan Pickford to calm down. No time for bedlam.

The Everton goalkeeper headed into Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final encounter with Denmark in superb form, yet to be beaten in the tournament.

In the 27th minute at Wembley, Pickford moved on to 720 minutes without conceding a goal for England, breaking a record set by the great Gordon Banks between May and July 1966. We all know how that tournament ended and how none have ended like it in the 55 years and four semi-final defeats since.

But by the time Pickford pouched that piece of history, events had already started to turn.

After Kalvin Phillips erred to allow a shot from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Pickford frantically sought to launch an attack - his distribution often such a plus for Gareth Southgate. He hurled the ball straight at Mikkel Damsgaard, who understandably seemed a little surprised by that.

A passage of gasping, pulse-quickening mistakes ended with Martin Braithwaite having a shot deflected behind for a corner. England emerged unscathed but robbed entirely of their early poise.

Damsgaard, Braithwaite and Kasper Dolberg were finding pockets of space all across the turf, with England's plan for snuffing out Denmark's lightning breaks apparently amounting to little more than Kyle Walker being terrifyingly fast. He's terrifyingly brilliant, too, but still...

Too much was passing England's defensive midfield block by. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips did not make a tackle between them in the first half. Tottenham's Hojbjerg, patrolling central areas expertly alongside Thomas Delaney, snapped into five all by himself.

Rice was caught napping by Dolberg, who was brought down by Mason Mount. That's what friends are for.

A relatively unthreatening free-kick became a threatening one as Luke Shaw wrapped his arms around Andreas Christensen defending the initial set-piece. From 30 yards, Damsgaard creamed a delightful strike beyond Pickford, who will think he should have done better.

 

In calmer times, perhaps he would. Then there was further skittishness, prompting centre-back Stones to intervene.

Contrary to Pickford's need to slow down, England's best moments came when they dared Denmark to find a solution to Bukayo Saka's quicksilver pace and Raheem Sterling's restless, relentless, intelligent movement.

Sterling started the game tearing mercilessly after the right-hand side of the Danish defence. He should have done better after cutting inside Christensen and scuffing a shot too close to Kasper Schmeichel.

A scuff would have done the job in the 38th minute, when Sterling met Saka's low cross sweetly and Schmeichel saved improbably. But the seed was planted – more ice-cool work in behind from Saka, more scrambled brains as Sterling made a nuisance of himself, with the result an own goal for skipper Simon Kjaer.

The contest continued in that vein throughout the second half, when whichever side found themselves on the backfoot appeared to be operating in a state of anguish. The occasion simultaneously fuelled its protagonists and threatened to blow up in their faces. Pickford saved sharply from Dolberg, unaware of the offside flag

Into the final 20 minutes of normal time and the highest stakes elite football was operating under park rules: next goal wins. Southgate's team are gloriously unburdened by England's tragicomic history. But no footballer with a pulse would be unburdened by such a present.

Jack Grealish was on but Kasper Hjulmand used his bench more boldly, sending on Yussuf Poulsen and Christian Norgaard for the impressive Damsgaard and Dolberg. Or was it more desperately, as Rice and Phillips (95.2 and 90.2 per cent pass completion) emerged from choppy waters to gradually exert control and wrestle the opponents deeper.

Six minutes of stoppage time: would you even dare? Sterling still asked questions of defenders with no remaining appetite for such trivia. Fouls piled up, bodies were on the line. This was how England tended to conclude big knockout games but Denmark reached the sanctuary of full-time.

 

Still Southgate kept his talent-stacked bench sheathed. Harry Kane fired towards Schmeichel on the angle. No one was there for the rebound. Fresh legs might have been.

And so, they arrived. Phil Foden instantly schemed with bad intentions, briefly lifting kindred-spirit Grealish in the process.

Sterling still schemed with bad intentions and found himself lying at the feet of Jannik Vestergaard, which felt mocking because the hulking centre-back looked like the biggest, tiredest man in the whole world.

The Manchester City forward was on the floor due to some combination of contact from Joakim Maehle and Mathias Jensen. Danny Makkelie ruled it was enough for a penalty.

Stop. Breathe.

Saved? No problem. Harry Kane never needs to calm down with a loose ball and a goal in front of him.

2-1. It was time for bedlam.

Harry Kane equalled Gary Lineker as England's joint-highest goalscorer in major tournaments as he propelled the Three Lions into the Euro 2020 final.

Kane scored on the rebound after having a penalty saved by Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel in extra-time at Wembley on Wednesday.

It made it 2-1 to England, with Simon Kjaer's own goal having cancelled out Mikkel Damsgaard's opener.

Schmeichel got down to his left to keep out a relatively tame spot-kick – which was won contentiously by the excellent Raheem Sterling – yet the rebound fell kindly to Kane, who coolly tucked in his 10th goal in a major tournament.

That tally brings the England captain level with Three Lions great Lineker.

All of Kane's major-tournament goals have come with his right foot (seven) or head (three).

 

The Tottenham talisman scored six times at World Cup 2018, repeating Lineker's feat from 1986 of winning the golden boot. 

After a slow start to Euro 2020, he has netted four times in the three knockout rounds, and will aim to set the new record when England take on Italy in Sunday's showdown.

Kane and Lineker are out ahead of Alan Shearer (nine), Wayne Rooney (seven), Geoff Hurst (six) and Michael Owen (six).

Hurst's fellow World Cup winner Bobby Charlton has five, while David Platt and Steven Gerrard both netted four times.

Kane is behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Patrik Schick (both five) in the scoring charts at Euro 2020, with another tournament golden boot firmly in his sights.

On his penalty miss and subsequent follow-up effort, Kane told ITV Sport: "I chose the side I was going to go, it wasn't the best executed penalty I've ever had sometimes you miss and it falls your way and thankfully it did today. 

"We know it's going to be a very tough game against Italy. We've had a great tournament so far. One more game to go at home and we can't wait."

Harry Kane is the best finisher in world football and supporters were wrong to doubt him amid his slow Euro 2020 start.

That is the view of former England manager Steve McClaren as Kane prepares to lead the line in Wednesday's huge semi-final against Denmark on Wednesday.

Kane failed to score in all three group games against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic as England made a steady but unspectacular start.

There were questions over whether the 27-year-old should retain his place in the line-up but the Tottenham striker responded with a headed goal against Germany in the last 16 and two more as England thrashed Ukraine 4-0 in the last eight.

Kane, the top scorer at World Cup 2018, has been involved in 27 goals in his last 26 games for England.

He has nine goals at major tournaments, with his second goal against Ukraine meaning he matched the career total scored by Alan Shearer.

Ahead of the Denmark game, Kane is one away from equalling the national record held by Gary Lineker (10).

Reflecting on Kane's tournament, McClaren told Stats Perform: "Unbelievable. 

"Do we not learn the lessons? You know, you have got Shearer and Lineker on the TV and talking their exploits and not scoring for ages coming into squads.

"Terry Venables [kept faith] with Shearer and Bobby Robson did with Lineker, do we not learn from this? 

"And you could see from the first games, okay, he's out of sorts, but he didn't get the service.

"There were no crosses going into the box, there was no one sliding balls through. 

"And to be fair Harry was outside the box the majority of the time but against Ukraine, Germany, he was inside the box.

"When he is inside the box, he is the best finisher in the world at the present moment. So put the ball in the box. Once we do that, he will score without a doubt."

 

McClaren believes Kane and Raheem Sterling are the two automatic attacking selections for Gareth Southgate, with a host of options beyond that for the other two spots.

"Reliability, that is the key thing," McClaren said about Sterling. "He's always produced for England, why? He's got the trust of Gareth. Every time he comes in, he plays. 

"It's difficult in a club because there are many, many games and sometimes you've been left out or other talent comes in. 

"And I think he's had an up and down season with Man City and in his relationship with Pep Guardiola. 

"He's not the nailed on number one like he is with England and that's the key thing. 

"He's playing with that freedom and you don't see players like that in any of the other nations. 

"Someone who can beat players, go past players, can score with both feet, with his head now he's getting into the box. But he can also create like he did for Kane against Ukraine."

 

McClaren believes England have fringe players who would be huge stars for most of the other nations at the Euros, talking up the likes of Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden.

He added: "Gareth's got an embarrassment of riches, he's got so many players who are so different in those positions.

"Grealish normally in any other team in these championships would be the star man regularly playing every game, Foden would be the star man playing every game, Sancho would be the star man playing every game. 

"They are not for England - what a luxury for Gareth.

"Sancho is just one of those talents amongst quite a few that we've got. He beats players, he's quick, strong, direct - he can assist, he can score. 

"He is a younger Sterling at the present moment and looking at him in the future, he could be better than him."

 

While the attacking options often dominate the public debate, McClaren has been extremely impressed with West Ham's Declan Rice and Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips in midfield.

"The work-rate, intensity, the amount of interceptions, the tackles that they put in, they have been for me the unsung heroes of the performances so far," said McClaren.

"We always say if you if you've got weak centre backs or you're not too sure about your centre backs, you always give them protection.

"When you're a little bit suspect there and you have [Tryone] Mings and [John] Stones and people, and without [Harry] Maguire [for the initial games], he [Southgate] needed that protection.

"They've been absolutely fantastic. They've protected the back, let them defend well from crosses. And they've also provided the front players the freedom to go about their jobs. 

"So it's a thankless task, but they're doing it so well."

 

Of the threat posed by Denmark, he added: "I think the big danger is the momentum that they're gaining, the emotion from everybody is with Denmark.

"Christian Eriksen with that incident - so pleased for him and his family and for everybody in football that he's fine and is recovering. 

"But I just think they've been galvanised by what has happened and if Eriksen is at the game with the Danish squad, that's an unbelievable boost. 

"You can see that something is behind them and that for me is the biggest danger, it is not so much Denmark, the players and the team - it's the momentum and the sway and the emotion and the euphoria that is propelling that Danish team above what they should be doing. 

"When you have a cause like that, it so powerful, a powerful emotion, a powerful incentive to see Eriksen at the game as well."

A lot can change in a month. Think back to England's pre-Euro 2020 friendlies and most fans or pundits were likely highlighting the defence as their primary concern.

Harry Maguire was injured and seemingly a doubt for the entire group stage; Trent Alexander-Arnold was ruled out of the tournament; and certain decisions made by Tyrone Mings had alarm bells ringing.

Yet, here we are, four weeks on and England are preparing for a Euro 2020 semi-final having not conceded a single goal in five tournament matches.

While sceptics might suggest the general level of those opponents wasn't always world class, the fact is their five clean sheets has equalled a major tournament record – it is a genuine achievement in itself.

That record is extended to Jordan Pickford as well, with the Everton goalkeeper one clean sheet away from setting a new record for the most clean sheets at a European Championship (six).

 

Before Euro 2020, most will have been championing England's forward options as the team's strongest element, but now there's more than a case for the defence.

Solid and dependable

While Everton fans would insist Jordan Pickford's form has been strong for a while, it's fair to say there are many who've been surprised – rightly or wrongly – by his showings at Euro 2020.

His kicking has been an asset to England, while he's produced some excellent saves and his importance to the team is quantifiable as well.

According to xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Pickford has actively prevented 1.5 goals at Euro 2020. Now, that may not sound massive in the grand scheme of things, it's actually highly impressive given the small sample of matches involved.

Only Stole Dimitrievski (2.6) and Tomas Vaclik (2.5) have prevented more goals than him in the tournament, though their respective xGA (expected goals against) figures of 8.85 and 6.7 show their records come from a larger pool of quality chances than Pickford (2.95).

 

Of course, away from goalkeeping, defensive excellence can be difficult to outline with statistics, particularly in good teams. For example, if John Stones was leading the charts for the most tackles, it would suggest England were playing a risky game because of the over-reliance on someone in their backline. He isn't, and that obviously reflects well on the Three Lions' organisation.

But two individual metrics reflect particularly well on Harry Maguire. The Manchester United centre-back has received great praise since returning to the team for the third group game, impressing with his reliability at the back.

The acclaim is backed up by the fact he's not lost a single aerial duel (8/8) and come out on top in 14 of his 16 overall duels since coming back into the side.

Both he and Pickford will be looked to again on Wednesday, particularly given Denmark – whose 15 direct attacks is the most of all teams at Euro 2020 – have scored 11 times so far, a haul bettered by only Spain (12) before the semis.

Shields up

Central midfield was another area of the team that had sections of the support unconvinced ahead of the tournament, with the double-pivot of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips deemed by many as too conservative. Granted, few Premier League fans would have looked at them and thought, "these two guarantee goals", but international football over the past nine years has given great credence to the idea pragmatism rules.

It'd now be fair to assume the majority of England fans would start both players for the remainder of the tournament, regardless of the opposition. As a pair they possess great athleticism, good ball-retention ability, work ethic and defensive nous.

Phillips has arguably been the greater eye-opener. While his advanced role against Croatia may not have developed into a continuing theme, his ability to sniff out danger and be in the right place at the right time has been notable, and as such only six midfielders could better his 28 recoveries prior to the semi-finals.

 

Similarly, his athleticism has translated well to aerial battles as well, with his 10 aerial wins ranking him fourth among midfielders.

Rice has generally been the one of the two with the greater defensive responsibility, as reflected by his eight interceptions, two blocks and seven clearances, all of which put him in the top five for midfielders at Euro 2020 prior to the semi-finals.

Though it's also worth highlighting that, although Rice works effectively off the ball, his influence in possession is also significant, as evidenced by the collective xG value of build-ups he's involved in being 3.1, only bettered by four Spain players.

Sure, this metric will be weighted in favour of teams who play more games and have a greater share of the ball, but he's ranked higher than the likes of Jordi Alba (2.3) and Jorginho (2.6), which speaks volumes.

So, while the defence and Pickford are certainly doing a fine job, their defensive shield is also proving highly capable.

Passive effective

In 2021, high-intensity pressing is very much in vogue, which is another reason why this England team is so interesting. While some teams almost religiously stick to such principals, the Three Lions prefer to pick their moments.

This is partly reflected by England's 35 high turnovers being the lowest of the four semi-finalists (Spain and Denmark on 47, Italy on 42), while their 98 defensive actions is also well behind (Spain 159, Italy 134, Denmark 127).

England's average starting position of 42.6 metres (also a low among the last four) shows how they tend to defend deeper, and the fact they allow 18.6 passes on average before initiating a defensive action (PPDA) further reflects Southgate's desire to have a lower line of engagement.

 

It's not that England don't press, they are just more passive in general. This certainly won't be a surprising revelation to anyone who has watched them at Euro 2020.

This passive nature doesn't necessarily lend itself to many people's idea of exciting football, but it seems to be having a real impact…

How it all comes together

Whether or not Southgate's masterplan was to shutdown the opposition and rely on their own clinical finishing, only he can say, though it's worked out that way so far.

Again, generally speaking England games haven't exactly been packed with excitement for the neutrals, with their matches averaging just 15.8 shots – that's the lowest of any side in the Euros dating back to at least 1980, with the next being Germany (2021) on 18.5.

Seemingly England's low defensive line – which has often comprised of a back three – coupled with two defensive-minded deep-lying midfielders has contributed to England facing just two shots on target per game, second only to Italy (1.8).

 

On top of that, 43 per cent of their shots faced have been outside of the box, the fourth-highest share of all teams at the tournament, and that undoubtedly plays a role in England's 0.07 xG against per shot being the lowest at Euro 2020 ahead of the semis. Additionally, their 2.95 xG against and two Opta-defined 'big chances' conceded are the lowest.

Of course, that would all be for nothing if England couldn't put the ball away at the other end, yet their 21.6 conversion rate is the highest of all 24 teams prior to the final three matches and shows just how efficient they've been, despite Harry Kane coming in for significant criticism earlier in the tournament.

 

Nevertheless, England's excellence at the back so far is by no means a guarantee of success on Wednesday. It only takes one moment of genius or calamity to ruin all the hard work, and that could come from anywhere, anyone.

But the data helps paint a picture of structural effectiveness in the team, as well as a collective quality that is breeding consistency.

While the relevance of the past certainly pales in comparison to what comes next, it's undoubtedly comforting to Southgate and England fans alike that they've had such a solid foundation to this point.

However, it will be defined by what happens in the next five days: crumble and England will fade, or stand firm and the Three Lions will surely roar again.

Will Kylian Mbappe move to Real Madrid?

Will Lionel Messi leave Barcelona for Paris Saint-Germain?

The star pair are dominating headlines in the transfer market.

 

TOP STORY – MBAPPE TO MADRID?

Real Madrid believe they will be able to prise Kylian Mbappe from Paris Saint-Germain if the Ligue 1 giants sign Lionel Messi, according to the front page of Wednesday's Diario AS.

Mbappe – entering the final year of his contract – has long been tipped to join LaLiga powerhouse Madrid, while Liverpool have also been linked.

Messi is out of contract at Barca and while the Catalan club remain confident of re-signing the superstar captain, PSG and Madrid are hoping to make the most of the situation.

 

ROUND-UP

Arsenal have joined PSG and Atletico Madrid in the chase to sign Lyon star Houssem Aouar, reports Le10 Sport.

- Calciomercato says Serie A champions Inter and Ligue 1 outfit Lyon are both eyeing Ajax goalkeeper Andre Onana.

Milan have increased their contract offer for star midfielder Franck Kessie, per Gazzetta dello Sport. Having already lost Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu, the Rossoneri are keen to re-sign Kessie, who has been linked with PSG, Tottenham, Arsenal and Inter.

Manchester City are interested in Napoli star Piotr Zielinski, according to Tuttosport. Napoli are believed to be willing to listen to offers. Premier League champions City have also been linked with the likes of Tottenham's Harry Kane, Inter forward Romelu Lukaku, Borussia Dortmund forward Erling Haaland and Madrid defender Raphael Varane in the transfer window.

- Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga and Varane both moving to Manchester United, while not impossible is "remote in reality", according to Sky Sports.

Gareth Southgate challenged his England players to keep making history ahead of their Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark.

Southgate's men are aiming to win a first major honour for 55 years but have consistently breached new ground of late.

The last-16 win over Germany was the first time they had beaten a country with a world title to their name in a knockout fixture since the 1966 World Cup final.

A 4-0 quarter-final thrashing of Ukraine made it consecutive semi-finals on the back of the run Southgate masterminded at Russia 2018 – the first time England have accomplished that since going close in the 1968 European Championship.

Nevertheless, that five-and-a-half-decade drought is the one statistic that continues to loom, but one from which the manager suggested his young and gifted squad can feel liberated by.

"We don't have as good a football history as we like to believe sometimes," he told a pre-match news conference. "These players are making massive strides."

"We've broken down barriers in this tournament and we have another opportunity to do that tomorrow.

"We have never been to a European Championship final so we can be the first England team to do that which is really exciting."

There will be 60,000 fans at Wembley on Wednesday – an increased capacity on previous matches in London at Euro 2020.

The win against Germany was celebrated with a lap of honour but Southgate has witnessed a more muted reception to progress among his players when compared to their Russian adventure.

 

"It definitely feels different this time," he said. "The World Cup was a very emotional journey for us. We hadn't won a knockout game for 12 years or something like that.

"The night with Colombia where we won that knockout game, won a penalty shoot-out. It was highly emotional.

"Then the quarter-final with Sweden, again, the first time in a semi-final for [22] years.

"It has felt different this time in that we expected ourselves to get to this point. We've had that internal aim.

"We've not been our celebrating the victories in the same way. We've moved on to the next challenge quickly and it was the same in Rome. Our focus was very quickly on the game against Denmark."

Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand suggested the pressure of expectation from the home crowd could get to England, but Southgate was again keen to emphasise a sense of opportunity.

"We've had expectation during the whole tournament and I think we have dealt with that really well, in the opening game [against Croatia] for example, and in the game with Germany," he added.

"But we've never been to a final so the pressure is what you choose it to be really. I think it is a motivating thing, it is a challenge for us.

"If we were a country that had won five titles and had to match what had gone before I might feel differently – but we are not."

Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is hoping to turnaround a wretched individual record against England captain Harry Kane in Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final.

Kane has put a slow start to the tournament behind him during the knockout stages, following his game-sealing header in the 2-0 last-16 win over Germany with a brace in last weekend's 4-0 quarter-final demolition of Ukraine in Rome.

Leicester City keeper Schmeichel knows all about Kane's lethal qualities from their duels in the Premier League.

Indeed, Kane's 14 goals past Schmeichel are more than he has managed against any other goalkeeper across all competitions.

One of those was in a 4-2 win for Spurs at the King Power Stadium on the final day of the Premier League season that denied Leicester a Champions League place.

On the other hand, Schmeichel went unbeaten by Kane or any other England player when Denmark drew 0-0 at home with the Three Lions in last season's Nations League before winning 1-0 at Wembley, where their semi-final will also take place.

"He's a world class striker, someone who can always guarantee you a lot of goals during the season," Schmeichel told a pre-match news conference.

"He's a very dedicated and professional player. He knows where to position himself, he's very instinctive.

"I would say that he is among the top three or top five strikers in the world."

 

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who shares a club dressing room with Kane, ranks him even more highly.

However, the Denmark midfielder insists he will have no special tips for his defensive colleagues.

"I don't need to introduce Harry Kane for anyone," he said.

"Behind closed doors he is very professional. He's good at what he does, he's very dedicated.

"He's just an incredible football player. So, for me, Harry is the best player in that position.

"It is an honour to play with him every day but I'm sure that, with the defence we have, it's going to be tough for him."

 

Denmark head coach Kasper Hjulmand does not see his team as underdogs and hopes the pressure of having 60,000 expectant home supporters can work against England.

"There are some psychological factors in the game," he said. "They have a lot of supporters, but we also have to remember that they have a lot of pressure and expectations.

"I don't think it is going to be so easy for them. We believe that we can take advantage of the pressure that England feel."

The prize for England would be a first major final appearance since their 1966 World Cup triumph, with the prospect prompting plenty of excitement across the country.

The hopeful refrain of "It's coming home" from the Euro 96 song 'Three Lions' has become something of a rallying call, although Schmeichel – whose father Peter helped Denmark to a shock success at Euro 92 – could not resist poking a little fun at his adopted country's expense.

"Has it ever been home?" he chuckled.

"I don't know, have you ever won it? Was [1966] not the World Cup?"

Schmeichel added: "To be honest, I haven't given any thought to what it would mean to stop England, rather than what it would do for Denmark – the joy it would bring to a country of five million people, competing with the nations we're competing with.

"I've not really thought much about England's feelings on this."

Euro 2020 is disappearing before our eyes, with the delayed tournament somehow already at the business end as we head into the final three matches.

It's been a thrill ride since the very beginning. From Italy making a sparkling start and Denmark rallying after Christian Eriksen's medical emergency, to France falling at the last 16 and England reaching the semi-finals of a second successive major tournament.

Italy, England, Spain and Denmark are all that's left as Euro 2020 enters its final week, and at this point it seems particularly tricky to call, particularly between first three.

But, given how integral statistics are to football these days, data can potentially give you edge when attempting to predict certain outcomes, and this is where Stats Perform's Artificial Intelligence team comes in as they've used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each semi-finalist's chances of winning tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform Euros Prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances and also takes into consideration the strength of each side's opponents.

The games are then simulated 40,000 times and analysed, providing the AI team with a percentage for each nation, showing the probability of them ultimately lifting the trophy at Wembley on July 11.

Without any further ado, let's take a look at the results…

Denmark (8.8 per cent chance of winning Euro 2020)

The fact Denmark even got out of their group was an achievement in itself as they became the first team to ever reach the knockout phase having lost their opening two matches. Yet, here we are.

The Danes are into the last four for the first time since winning the competition in 1992 and have really hit their stride since their two early defeats, with only Spain (12) outscoring Kasper Hjulmands' men until this point (11) – that haul is the most they've ever managed at a major tournament.

 

Denmark have projected a real sense of unity since Eriksen collapsed against Finland, and it's hard to believe they will fear anyone at this point.

Nevertheless, England should represent trickier opposition than the likes of Wales and the Czech Republic, which is perhaps reflected by the fact their 8.8 per cent chance of winning the title is the lowest of the four remaining teams.

But if standout performers such as Joakim Maehle, Simon Kjaer and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg continue to deliver the goods, who's to say they cannot emulate the 1992 vintage?

 

Spain (23.1 per cent)

Luis Enrique's Spain have been a fascinating watch at Euro 2020, partly because they somehow manage to flitter between exceptional and unrefined. Their erratic nature has become one of the sideshows of the tournament.

For example, only the Netherlands (53) have forced more high turnovers than Spain, while La Roja are the sole side to break the 100 barrier in terms of sequences of 10 or more passes (147). They only allow their opponents 8.3 passes on average in the defensive third before they initiate a defensive action, indicating they are the most intense pressers at the tournament, and their haul of 12 goals is more than anyone else.

 

Yet, their xGA (expected goals against) of 6.8 is comfortably the worst of the four teams left, and their xG underperformance of 3.6 is the biggest of all 24 teams. In short, these points suggest that not only have Spain been lucky to only concede five times, they are also the most wasteful team at Euro 2020.

 

That's obviously not helped by the fact Gerard Moreno (no goals from 3.3 xG) and Alvaro Morata (two goals from 3.95 xG) are among the three players with the worst xG underperformance records in the competition.

However, they've got this far and have still crafted plenty of goal-scoring opportunities, with their record of 25 big chances a tournament-high. If the penny drops with Spain's forwards and they start to convert in line with their xG, they could have real joy.

 

England (29.1 per cent)

It would be fair to say England's performances in the group stage, although not alarming, certainly didn't inspire a huge amount of confidence as they scored just two goals. But in the two games since, they have netted six times and attracted significant acclaim.

The fact they don't necessarily stand out in many specific team metrics (perhaps bar 10+ passing sequences – 98, second to Spain) is arguably partly down to how flexible Gareth Southgate's team have been in their approach to specific games. For example, their passes per defensive action (PPDA) dropped from 13.7 against Scotland to 25.9 against Germany, suggesting they were concerned about the German midfield playing through their press and instead sat back more in order to cut off passing routes.

Of course, adapting to your opponents is hardly revolutionary, most teams do it to a certain extent, but in a tournament where Spain and Italy have almost religiously stuck to principals and formations that govern their setups, England have chopped and changed.

 

It's clearly worked as well given the fact the Three Lions have equalled a major-tournament record of five successive clean sheets, while their 2.95 xGA (with no goals conceded) leads the way at Euro 2020.

With their defence seemingly watertight and Harry Kane finding some confidence with three goals in two games, England look in great shape. If our prediction model took into consideration that all of the remaining games are to be at Wembley, they'd likely be a bit closer to top spot.

 

Italy (38.9 per cent)

It seems like a long time ago now that Italy came into Euro 2020 as – some claimed at the time – unknown quantities. The common conception was that their 27-match unbeaten run coming into the tournament was misleading because most of the games were said to have been against sub-optimal opposition.

Well, they are now at 32 games unbeaten having won or drawn all of their five matches to this point at Euro 2020, setting a new national record in the process.

But, more than that, they've been utterly joyful to watch. They are relentless in attack, as highlighted by their tournament-leading shot (11) and goal-ending high turnovers (three), but also impressive at the back having only conceded one non-penalty goal.

 

Built around a solid core of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella that expertly blends craft and guile arguably unlike any team at Euro 2020, Roberto Mancini's turned Italy into a side that's not only been generally fun to watch, but also effective.

Spain represent a completely different challenge to any other side Italy have faced thus far, yet Luis Enrique's men have afforded their opponents plenty of chances. The Azzurri have been consistent throughout in attack, as demonstrated by their 11 goals from 10.3 xG. Without the one own goal in their favour, it would be 10 from 10.3 xG.

 

Italy have shown no major weaknesses en route to the semi-finals, and as such our model suggests it is they who have the greatest chance of success this week.

Lionel Messi became a free agent last week.

Initial reports suggested he had agreed to a new two-deal with Barca.

The 34-year-old told Barcelona last year he wanted to leave but opted to remain.

 

TOP STORY – MESSI BEING EYED BY DUO

Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City are both monitoring Lionel Messi's transfer position after becoming a free agent, according to the front page of Tuesday's Mundo Deportivo.

Messi's Barcelona contract expired on June 30, but he has been widely expected to re-sign with the LaLiga giants, who need to manage their finances.

However, with Messi still unattached, Ligue 1 powerhouse PSG and Premier League champions City are continuing to eye the six-time Ballon d'Or winner.

 

ROUND-UP

- ESPN reports Sergio Ramos, fresh from his Real Madrid exit, will have a medical with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday and join as a free agent.

Juventus remain interested in signing France international midfielder Paul Pogba from Manchester United, according to 90min.

- Marca reports United are leading the race to sign Rennes teenager Eduardo Camavinga, ahead of Madrid and PSG.

City may still turn to Barca forward Antoine Griezmann, if they fail to land Tottenham's Harry Kane, claims Mundo Deportivo. City have also been linked with Borussia Dortmund's Erling Haaland and Inter star Romelu Lukaku.

- New Tottenham boss Nuno Espirito Santo is interested in signing Benfica's Haris Seferovic reports the Mirror. Benfica are looking to sell the Swiss striker.

- Fabrizio Romano claims Juventus have not initiated any move for Barcelona's Miralem Pjanic despite links of a return to his former club. Juve continue to be linked with Sassuolo's Manuel Locatelli, who is also reportedly wanted by Arsenal.

Harry Kane has described Nuno Espirito Santo as a "great manager" but will hold off from speaking to his new Tottenham boss until after England's Euro 2020 campaign.

The 27-year-old's club future has been a hot topic of debate after admitting in May he feels at a "crossroads" in his career following another trophyless campaign with Spurs. 

Kane, who has spent the past 17 years with the north London club aside from four loan spells away, is a rumoured target for Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Keeping hold of the prolific striker will be a top priority for Nuno, who was last week confirmed as Jose Mourinho's permanent successor.

But Kane has yet to discuss his future with the ex-Wolves coach as he is eager to focus solely on helping England to Euro 2020 glory on home soil over the next week.

"Whenever a new manager comes in, I guess there's a level of excitement around the club," Kane, who has scored three goals in England's run to the semi-finals, told talkSPORT.

"Obviously, I've not been there and not had any contact with him. I'm away with England now and my full focus is on here.

"Hopefully, we've got a week left. He's a great manager and did a great job at getting Wolves playing a really good way.

"Let's get back and I'm sure we'll be in contact after the tournament."

 

Kane finished as the Premier League's top scorer last season with 23 goals, making him the third player to win the award three times after Thierry Henry (four) and Alan Shearer.

He also set up 14 goals to become only the second player in the Premier League era to top the charts for both goals and assists, the other being Andy Cole for Newcastle United in 1993-94.

Those 37 goals involvements were his most across a league campaign in his career, while his 14 assists doubled a previous high of seven in 2016-17.

Kane is under contract for another three years and new sporting director Fabio Paratici stressed on Monday that Spurs have no intention of selling the "special" player.

Asked about the comments made by Paratici, Kane said: "Of course, as a player you want to be wanted, you want to feel like you're loved, which I do.

"I haven't had the chance to talk to any of these people yet. I'm sure we'll get to know each other after the tournament, have a phone call or two once I get a week or two of holiday.

"To get praise from big people from football is great, it gives you confidence, it gives you motivation so of course it’s nice to hear."

 

While Kane has yet to speak with Nuno or Paratici, he has been in dialogue with Mourinho since the Portuguese was sacked by Tottenham in April.

"He's been texting me," Kane said of the now-Roma boss. "It's common knowledge we have a great relationship and got on really well.

"I really respect him as a manager and person. I wish him all the best at Roma. It is great to have one of the best managers in the world on your side.

"I will always respect him and hopefully be in contact with him for the rest of my career."

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