EURO 2020: Italy, England, you’ve already won

Heading into the EURO 2020 Final, Susy Campanale feels that whatever happens at Wembley tonight, this will be remembered as a success for both Italy and England fans.

There is an Italian phrase: Comunque vada è un successo (Whatever happens it’s a success) and it comes to me just hours before Italy and England face off in the UEFA EURO 2020 Final. It fits both teams perfectly, because while naturally they want to get their hands on the trophy and overcome that final hurdle, this tournament will be remembered fondly in future. So enjoy it, relish it, get your anecdotes ready and be prepared for a wave of nostalgia to hit you when you see some of these images in many years’ time.

You were there when the team that couldn’t even qualify for the 2018 World Cup and was an international embarrassment managed to reach the Final, playing inarguably the most entertaining and attacking football in the competition, winning over doubters and showing what a combination of the next generation and the old war horses can achieve. Italy, the team to go to for quality, spectacular, high-tempo and positive football. Who’d have thought it?

You were there when the caretaker manager stepped in after another ridiculous tabloid scandal, leading by example for a group of genuinely admirable young men who for once felt like they represented the modern England and united a nation in joy rather than bitterness or resentment. They forced the media to talk about social justice and LGBTQI+ rights rather than drunken, loutish behaviour in some foreign bar. You were there before the usual suspects tried to jump on the bandwagon, your cheers and applause drowned out the boo boys before they sneakily attempted to join in. England, the team with the best defensive record in the competition, the most clinical and able to keep their heads under pressure. Who’d have thought it?

None of this was supposed to happen. Sure, Italy were reborn under Roberto Mancini, but the target was to do quite well in the Euros, then build towards the 2022 World Cup. The one-year delay caused by COVID ended up giving them the time to develop more fully, for the younger elements to mature and reach a crescendo this summer. Gareth Southgate wasn’t meant to be here at all, it constantly felt like he was just keeping the seat warm until someone more glamorous would come along, yet he’s reached a World Cup semi-final and a Euros Final, both things nobody had achieved on the England bench in 30 years.

If you believe going into the Final, nerves jangling, that this tournament won’t be remembered as a success for your country, then let me point this out: what songs have we heard sung from the two camps throughout the summer? Three Lions and Notti Magiche, the anthems of glorious failures. Ignore the ‘It’s Coming Home’ part, that’s just for people who clearly haven’t listened to the rest of the song or don’t want to acknowledge it’s a genuinely heartfelt paean to hope in endless adversity. I curse those who have turned it into a jingoistic, arrogant nightmare motif going round and round and round like tumbling down some Escher stairs. This song reminds everyone of Euro ’96, a competition England felt they really should’ve won on home turf and crashed out on penalties in the semi-final.

Italy, inspired by playing their group games at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome just like in 1990, started singing Notti Magiche (or Un’Estate Italiana, to give it the real title), the official theme of Italia ’90. A competition the Azzurri felt they really should’ve won on home turf and crashed out on penalties in the semi-final. You get my drift.

Yet, as an Italy or England fan, how do you feel looking back on those tournaments? Failures, yes, but glorious ones. We thoroughly enjoyed the journey and didn’t even reach the Final, so how fondly will we recall EURO 2020 which wasn’t even in 2020? Seeing fans back in the stadiums, getting to celebrate with people after a year locked inside, having something to be genuinely proud of as a football nation after hitting such low points. Italy’s first Euros since 1968 or England’s first trophy of any kind since 1966. Whatever happens, it’s a success, so enjoy it.