Tens of thousands of English football fans at Wembley tried to send a message to Italy on Wednesday night: Sunday’s Euro 2020 final will be hell for the Azzurri. Italians heard the deafening cheers of the home support loud and clear, but that chant, “It’s coming home”, screamed at the top of English lungs does not seem to have affected them greatly. They are far from intimidated.
“It’s coming home? Maybe the English fans meant ‘it’s coming to Rome’,” said Giovanni Mapelli, 14, from Monticello Brianza, near Milan, who plays for a local football team. Since England won a place in the final, he and his brother have been mocking his England-born-and-raised mother.
Squares and streets across the country are filled with the red, white and green of the Italian flag, hanging over balconies or carried on the shoulders of people riding scooters – a level of enthusiasm not seen in Italy since the 2006 World Cup, which any Italian fan can tell you was won by the Azzurri.
The Italian press have not missed the opportunity to fan national pride. La Repubblica chose to remind its readers of Italy’s track record: “In the 111-year history of Italy’s national team, the final at Wembley will be the 12th, if we include the 1936 Olympics and the 1968 double final,” it wrote. “Such a long experience certainly has a privilege: the possibility of not repeating any mistakes of the past.” The comparison with England did not have to be spelled out.
La Gazzetta dello Sport, the country’s main sports newspaper, took a different tack and in a long article – later removed from its website without explanation – raised the unsubstantiated suspicion that Uefa is backing England for the final to please Boris Johnson after his opposition to the Super League project. It suggested, in claims reported on by others in the Italian press, that the penalty awarded to England against Denmark before their winning goal was a sign of Uefa’s support.
“Too bad,” it added. “Because England’s national team doesn’t need any help.”
What is certain is that despite the confidence shown by the fans and players, the Italians know Sunday’s match will not be a walk in the park. “It will be a real battle,” said Angelo Marolla, an athletic trainer for a volleyball team in Teramo and a huge fan of the Azzurri. “If we play with the heart, we will win. My dream is to relive Gianfranco Zola’s goal at Wembley against England in 1997.”
At Wembley on Sunday will be the president, Sergio Mattarella, who if Italy win would follow in the footsteps of his predecessors Sandro Pertini and Giorgio Napolitano, who attended the Azzurri’s World Cup final victories in 1982 and 2006. If Italy lose, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi. , who was present for Italy’s defeat by France in the final of Euro 2000, will be the closest comparison.
According to Corriere della Sera’s estimates, there will be one Italian for every four English fans at the final. “Wembley will be like this on Sunday evening,” it said: “A white tide with a large blue band.”
Meanwhile, the match between England and Italy has already started on social media, with fans from both countries ribbing each other.
Among the most popular tweets in Italy are those of Italian fans objecting to the adoption by English fans of the melody of the White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army as a terrace chant. The same song had also been a soundtrack of the Italians after the victory at the 2006 World Cup.
“England on Wednesday stole two things,” wrote one. “Our choir and the victory against Denmark.”