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AP/PA Images The Italian players celebrating their semi-final win over Spain.
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David Meyler: Euro 2020 has been tough for an Irishman in England but Italy will do the business
Our football columnist previews Sunday’s final at Wembley Stadium.

EX-IRELAND INTERNATIONAL David Meyler is The42′s football columnist for this season.

Each week, the former Hull City and Sunderland midfielder will give expert insight and his predictions ahead of the biggest action, alongside the latest William Hill prices.

In his latest column, Meyler gives his reaction to this week’s Euro 2020 semi-finals before previewing the clash of England and Italy in Sunday’s final at Wembley. 

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Italy v England, 8pm Sunday 

So we have our two finalists and what a fascinating match-up it promises to be. 

Despite their international pedigree, Italy have only won the European Championships once in their history — back in 1968, when only four nations competed in the competition. 

England, as you may have heard by now, are into a major final for the first time since the 1966 World Cup.  

And while the Azzurri have bounced back remarkably from the disappointment of missing out on qualification for Russia in 2018 — going on a run of 33 games unbeaten — Gareth Southgate’s men have built on their fourth-place finish three years ago by breaking the nation’s semi-final curse. 

I had backed Italy to come through Tuesday’s last-four tie and while they eventually did so, their performance could have been better. 

The Italians won’t care too much now, but I felt Spain actually deserved to win on the night. They had answers for Italy’s pressing and continued to dominate possession and find spaces.

Luis Enrique opted to play without a recognised striker and picked Mikel Oyarzabal instead of Alvaro Morata and Spain showed themselves to be a top young side.

Look at Pedri, just 18 years of age and bossing a semi-final at the Euros. The Barcelona teenager was phenomenal and he will only get better over the next few years.

However, the Italians showed grit and resilience to get over the line — albeit via a penalty shootout.

I have to say, I’m gutted for Alvaro Morata. I was watching the game with my wife and when he stepped up I turned to her and said ‘I hope this fella scores’.

The abuse he received during the group games was uncalled for but the Juventus striker bounced back from that to score in extra time against Croatia. Then he comes on the other night to equalise with an unbelievable goal.

It just felt inevitable that he would miss his penalty though.

italy-v-spain-uefa-euro-2020-semi-final-wembley-stadium PA Gianluigi Donnarumma saving Alvaro Morata's penalty. PA

Italy boss Roberto Mancini won’t change much for the final, but he could tweak things slightly.

Emerson Palmieri replaced the injured Leonardo Spinazzola and I thought he did reasonably well without setting the world alight, so Mancini may look at that.

Federico Chiesa, who scored a wonderful opener, came off in extra time with cramp but hopefully he will be fine.

I love the fact that Chiesa’s dad Enrico scored for Italy at Euro ‘96 in England and 25 years on he has achieved something similar. 

On Wednesday night, England began very nervously but then got into their rhythm. Mikkel Damsgaard has been one of the outstanding young players at this tournament and he fired the Danes ahead in spectacular fashion from a free-kick. When I saw it first I thought it was an unstoppable strike but when you watch back the replay it looks like Jordan Pickford could have done more.

Had Denmark got to half-time at 1-0 it could have been a very different game.

Raheem Sterling has been England’s star player and Southgate’s decision to stick with him has undoubtedly been vindicated. His willingness to run in behind, along with Bukayo Saka on the other side, allowed Harry Kane to drop deep, receive the ball on the half-turn and play defence-splitting passes.

Kane fed Sterling moments before the equaliser but Kasper Schmeichel made a magnificent save. It might have been an own goal, but Sterling was again in the right position and would have finished Saka’s cut-back had Simon Kjaer not put it into his own net.

Sterling was involved in the winning goal too, but that was never a penalty for me. It’s such a crucial decision in a really important game and they’ve got it wrong.

England got the rub of the green and it is heartbreaking for Denmark as suffering defeat in that manner will be harder to take. 

england-v-denmark-uefa-euro-2020-semi-final-wembley-stadium PA Harry Kane follows up to finish past Kasper Schmeichel after the initial save. PA

When Kane stepped up, I would have put every single penny I have on him scoring. I know he finished the rebound but the initial spot-kick was poorly struck. That shows that emotion and nerves can take over on the biggest stage. Not for the first time, Schmeichel made a great stop and the Denmark goalkeeper can count himself unlucky as he was immense.

I believe Southgate will go with the same team in the final, as long as they are all available.

If England are to win the game, they will need their midfielders to dominate Jorginho and Marco Verratti. Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice have done a great job at the base and while their performances weren’t at as high a level on Wednesday, I’d stick with that pair as opposed to bringing in the likes of Jordan Henderson.

I’d imagine he will play Saka and Sterling again to get them in behind the Italian backline.

We all love Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, but Chiellini charged out of his position and was caught for Morata’s goal. The legendary centre-half is getting on and doesn’t have the turn of pace to make those recovery runs.

A big question is can the vastly-experienced warriors keep out England’s energetic attack? 

soccer-fifa-world-cup-2014-group-d-england-v-italy-arena-da-amazonia PA Raheem Sterling and Giorgio Chiellini back at the 2014 World Cup. PA

I live in England and the whole country is buzzing.

My wife has been glued to the games and it has been like that for most English people, even those who don’t have a strong interest in football. The team has brought a feel good vibe and I must say it’s tough as an Irishman.

I’d like to see Ireland get to a tournament, I’m not saying we have to win it, but I want to feel that excitement.

The last major tournament we qualified for in 2016, I was involved as a player so I’d love to experience it from the other side in the next few years.

Readers of this column will know I have picked Italy as outright winners right from the off, so I’m not going to change my mind now.

This one might need extra time and even penalties. I’m going to say 1-1 after 90 minutes and then Italy to prevail.

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code H30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see gamblingtherapy.org    

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