AFC Bournemouth legend Steve Fletcher predicts the first goal will be vital when England lock horns with Italy in the final of the European Championship.
Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions will be hoping to end England’s 55-year wait for men’s silverware at a major tournament when they face the Azzurri at Wembley on Sunday.
Italy topped Group A after winning all three games – without conceding a goal – before seeing off Austria in the last 16, Belgium in the quarter-finals and Spain in the last four.
England also finished in pole position in their group and won through to the final after beating Germany, Ukraine and Denmark in the knockout stages.
Writing in his latest Euro 2020 column, Fletcher said if Roberto Mancini’s team were to open the scoring, it could make life very difficult for England.
Cherries’ appearance record holder Fletcher, whose grandfather Jack Howe was capped by England in the 1940s, has been penning his opinions for afcb.co.uk throughout the tournament.
This is going to be a totally different proposition to any other game we have had in this tournament.
Italy know how to win competitions and have been on the big stage on numerous occasions.
In my lifetime, I’ve seen them in five major tournament finals and this is the first time I will have seen England in one.
I remember watching Italy win the World Cup in Spain in 1982 and in Germany in 2006. I’ve also seen them finish as runners-up in the Euros twice.
I’m not saying they are serial winners by any means but they know how to win and that can be a massive advantage when you are in a final.
I like the way Gareth Southgate has handled the media with regards to previous tournaments.
He has gone to great lengths to play down what happened at Euro 96 when we lost on penalties in the semi-finals to Germany.
This has absolutely no relevance to this squad of players because most of them weren’t even born 25 years ago!
Okay, I know it’s similar with some of the Italian lads but Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci have both played in the final of a major tournament and you can’t buy experience like that.
Italy are not a team of superstars but they have a great work ethic and team spirit.
You can see that when they celebrate goals. The whole squad, including the coaches, are on the pitch and they’ve got a special bond.
We’re going to have to be at our very best to beat them.
Can we beat them?
Yes, if we’re on it.
We certainly have the firepower, both in the starting line-up and off the bench. We know we’ve got players who can finish at this level.
But Italy are very dangerous on the counter-attack. Their front three – Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne – are very dangerous so our back four or five are going to have to be really on it.
We can’t afford any mistakes. We need to be quick and make sure our passing is tight. We can’t allow them to counter-attack on the transition.
When we lose possession, we are going to have to have our defensive players getting back in.
We saw that against Spain when Italy got their goal. Spain had a lot of possession and were fantastic on the day. They were the better team.
But the game showed Italy are not overly bothered about having the ball all the time. What they do when they get it is counter really quickly.
That’s going to be their main threat.
The way we play, we can have the lion’s share of possession but it’s what you do with it that matters.
When we lose the ball in the final third, you will see them breaking in numbers to get forward and they’ve got pace and quality so we have to be very careful on that transition as Spain found out in the semi-final.
But there are chinks in their armour.
Their defence is ageing and quick players like Sterling and Saka can get in behind them.
Italy are renowned for their defensive qualities and we don’t want to let them get in the lead. That would allow them to sit back, make it very difficult and block all the passages.
They like to nick a goal and then try to sit in.
It’s going to be a very interesting game, both tactically and mentally.
The only thing that slightly worries me is that they have had an extra 24 hours to rest.
You would hope with the adrenalin that it wouldn’t really affect you but a day’s recovery is huge and they will have had that extra day.
I’m not saying that makes them favourites but they are going to be a bit fresher.
It’s the final of a major tournament and, potentially, there could be 90,000 at Wembley.
It’s going to be incredible and I just wish I could go because this opportunity might never come again.
I hope this could be the start of something special with this squad of players and we can be a huge threat in world football rather than just being quarter-final specialists!
I hope it’s coming home!