London (AFP) – Veteran Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini said he sensed coming into Euro 2020 that the Azzurri would enjoy a tournament to remember as they stand “inches away” from glory going into Sunday’s final against England at Wembley.
The Italians have put their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup behind them on a national record run of 33 matches unbeaten, including six matches at the tournament itself and two warm-up friendlies.
“I decided to continue with the national team because I really thought we could do a good job and as soon as the competition was put back a year I thought our youngsters would become even more mature and could have a great tournament,” Juventus centre-back Chiellini, who turns 37 next month, told reporters on Saturday.
“Ever since we played the Czech Republic and won 4-0 (in a friendly on June 4) I really felt there was something special and magical within the group, and now we are just inches away from completing the job.”
Chiellini made his Italy debut in 2004 and is playing in his fourth European Championship.
He was on the beaten side in the 2012 final, when the Azzurri lost 4-0 to Spain in Kiev having defeated England on penalties in the last eight.
“These are games that might not come around again in a player’s career so we are very fortunate,” Chiellini added.
“You just need to dampen some of the enthusiasm when you go into a final. That goes for us and for England.
“We need to thrive and savour this occasion. When we met up before the competition I said we needed just that hint of madness and to keep cool heads. That has brought us this far and hopefully it can take us to win the competition.”
– Home advantage played down –
Italy arrived in London on Saturday and prepared for the final at Tottenham Hotspur’s training ground.
England will have a huge advantage playing at home at Wembley, with the vast majority of an expected crowd of over 65,000 on their side — only around 7,000 Italy supporters are set to attend.
However, the hosts ended up on the losing side on the last two occasions they made the final of the competition: France were beaten by Portugal in Paris at Euro 2016, while the Portuguese lost to Greece in the Euro 2004 final in Lisbon.
England will be playing their sixth match out of seven at Wembley, with the only exception being their quarter-final win over Ukraine in Rome.
In a pan-European tournament that saw nine nations play games on home soil, Italy benefited from playing all three group games in Rome.
However, Chiellini tried to play down the significance of home advantage on Sunday.
“There is always a home team. That has happened in the past and it won’t be the last time,” he said.
“They have done a really good job to make it to the final. They were on a side of the draw that, once they got past Germany, they had some very beatable opposition, but above all they are a very good team.
“For me they were the strongest team on the other side of the draw, and of course the fact they are playing at home has definitely helped them avoid travelling too much but we had the same for the first three matches.
“But there is no controversy, all I want to do is really try to enjoy this wonderful arena because it is a dream not only for the English but for football lovers everywhere to be involved in the final and it will be even better if we can win it.”