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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

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Euro Final: Southgate – Mancini: David vs Goliath

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The Italian manager has one of the most impressive CV on the planet winning lots of titles with clubs as player and manager in Italy, England and in European competitions. The Englishman who has won only a League Cup as defender and nothing as a manager will try to upset the odds Sunday night (23h in Mauritius) at Wembley Stadium.

Roberto Mancini vs Gareth Southgate at Wembley, it’s going to be passionate. The two stylish protagonists will go head-to-head for the first time in London on Sunday night. For Italy, it will be their tenth major final, while it will only the second time in their history for the men’s England team, and first since their title in the World Cup in 1966 (55 years ago).

There is no comparison between the former Italian deep-lying forward, Roberto Mancini, and the British defender Gareth Southgate. Mancini won all possible titles in Italy with Sampdoria and Lazio. He also won the UEFA Cup winners and the Super Cup twice. Southgate won two League Cups with Aston Villa and Middlesbrough en England.

It’s the same when it comes to club level management. Mancini won a hat-trick of Serie A and four Coppa d’Italia titles with Lazio, Fiorentina and Inter Milan, and the Premier League, FA Cup and Community Shield as manager of Manchester City. Southgate was the manager of Middlesbrough from June 2006 to October 2009 when he was sacked after the club was relegated from the Premier League to the League One.

But, when it comes to the international level, both leaders have galvanised their players and propelled their respective countries to within touching distance of glory. Appointed as caretaker manager in 2016, Gareth Southgate qualified England for the 2018 World Cup. He was appointed in 2017 and reached the semi-finals of the competition. The Brits finished third in the Nations Cup and qualified easily for Euro 2020.

Mancini was handed his contract as the new Italian boss after the Squadra Azzurra failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It was the first time the Italian did not qualified for that tournament since 1958. A major change was indispensable. It came as Italy was revitalised under former Manchester City boss and are now Europe’s most in-form team, approaching the European Championship final on a 33-game unbeaten streak.

The end of the Superstars era

There is one thing in common between Mancini and Southgate: They are anti-superstars and imposed rigour and discipline to their sides. A glance at the Italy and England squads will reveal that they dug deep in their respective home championships to pick the players who will fulfil their vision of the best team they wanted. Or, who will fit the best in their different tactical plans. Spelling the end of the Superstars era.

One of Mancini’s best player of the Euro 2020 is midfielder Manuel Locatelli who already scored two goals out of four matches played. He’s from Sassuolo, a team that finished 8th in the Serie A. Two of Lacatelli’s club teammates, Domenico Berardi and Giacomo Raspadori, are also on the Italian Squad.

Southgate has made his team believe in his plan, which is: nobody will score against them easily or quickly. England has conceded only one goal this tournament, in the semi‑final against Denmark. He still relies on many talents up front with Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Phil Fodden, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford. It is good to point out that he uses many players from clubs not part of the so-called Big Six, Leeds, Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton. He put his faith in two young midfielders since the beginning of the competition who are Kalvin Phillips (Leeds) and Declan Rice (West Ham) with Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson acting only as a substitute. And that paid off.

The big lesson of this Euro is that the teams with mega superstars were not in the semi-finals with Italy beating a reconstructed Spain, and England defeating the big outsider Denmark. The most evident example is that of France. ‘Les Bleus’ turned to darkness. The world cup winners in 2018 had a ‘magical attacking trio’ with Kylian Mabappe, Antoine Griezeman and Karim Benzema, two of the most wanted midfielders Paul Pogba and Ngolo Kante, but failed to make it to the semi-finals. Manager Didier Deschamps seemed to have lost the control with players trying to interfere with his decisions publically. Belgium with his now aging ‘Golden generation’, number One in the FIFA Standings, did not live to expectation once again. Cristiano Ronaldo’s Euro 2016 winner Portugal was kicked out early at the round of 16 stages this time.

Coming back to Sunday’s final, the key might be the left of the defence of Italy for the England squad. Left-back Leonardo Spinazzola suffered the Achilles tendon rupture against Belgium. Chelsea’s Emerson Palmieri will start at Wembley, just as he did in Tuesday’s semi-final against Spain, and he could be an area to target. It will be up to Southgate to choose between Jadon Sancho or Bukayo Saka to make the break on the left flank.

On the other hand, the English defence will have to keep an eye on the Napoli captain, Lorenzo Insigne loves to drop into pockets of space between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines. Speedy defender Kyle Walker will be the right man to do the job.

Jose Mourinho has claimed England fans need to fight as he urged them to recreate Liverpool’s famous Anfield atmosphere. That has already started with huge support from people from the streets to Queen Elizabeth II who all stand behind captain ‘Prince’ Harry Kane’s team.

The Three Lions stand on the brink of history this Sunday. David defeated the giant Goliath in the biblical Book of Samuel. It’s time for the underdog Southgate to shine against the more experience and successful Mancini.

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