While England supporters believe football is finally coming home, and Gareth Southgate is the man destined to end a 55-year drought without a major trophy, there is the matter of an actual cup final to endure first.
All of that confidence, swagger and optimism that the Three Lions are experiencing heading into the Euro 2020 showdown, well, Italy are enjoying too – and then some.
Roberto Mancini’s side immediately announced themselves as the new favourites with a string of astonishing displays in the group stages, and they have lived up to those new-found expectations, securing their place in the tournament’s final for the first time in almost a decade.
Italy have dispatched of some top quality opponents to arrive at this point, and many are confident that after another 90 minutes at Wembley, they’ll be lifting their first trophy since 2006. However, they are not invincible, despite everything that 33-game unbeaten run will try to tell you.
So, what are Italy’s strengths and weaknesses which England should nullify and exploit on Sunday evening?
You cannot ignore the danger that Italy’s wide players have carried at this summer tournament. Lorenzo Insigne starred from the off, scoring in the opening Turkey slaughter, and then belted a curler beyond Thibaut Courtois to sink Belgium.
On the other flank, Federico Chiesa has come up with two huge goals for the Azzurri, first breaking the deadlock in a tense Round of 16 clash against Austria, and then edging Italy ahead in the eventual penalty shootout victory over Spain.
These guys are the source of Mancini’s magic, so England’s full-backs will need to play the game of their lives to keep them quiet in the final.
We can’t get enough of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. These two have been around the block forever with Juventus, and they’ve also provided the brick wall shielding Gianluigi Buffon and now Gianluigi Donnarumma for around a decade.
The duo are so in sync that they even go holidaying together, and that understanding and friendship translates into their on-field antics, too. Harry Kane is one of the best strikers in the world, but Bonucci and Chiellini won’t be intimidated – they’ve seen it all before.
Game management, AKA s**thousery, is something that Italy have rarely found in short supply. They didn’t need to dip into their bag of dark arts in the group stages, but they dipped deep during the 2-1 victory over Belgium in the quarter-finals.
From Ciro Immobile’s theatrics seconds before Nicolo Barella handed the Azzurri the lead, to Donnarumma’s two-minute phantom hand injury in the dying seconds of the game, this group of players know how to see out a result.
Whatever you do, England, don’t fall behind on Sunday – it’s an uphill battle from there.
That’s right, we live in a world where Jorginho is being tipped to win the Ballon d’Or. No matter how outrageous or frankly daft those calls are however, there is no smoke without fire.
The Chelsea man is the star of this Italy midfield, putting in the miles, breaking up the play and passing the death out of his opponents. He’s extremely reliable and immune to injury, making him the key to Mancini’s plans, ahead of Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella.
Stop Jorginho, and you might just stop Italy.
If you somehow evade the relentless Jorginho, escape bouncers Bonucci and Chiellini, is there a more daunting prospect than bearing down on goal and facing Donnarumma?
The young goalkeeper has been imperious for Italy this summer, making key saves against Belgium and Spain to secure the Azzurri’s place in the final. As far as last lines of defence go, there are few better in the world than Gigi.
This is without doubt the most suspect area of the Italy side. With Leonardo Spinazzola out for the foreseeable, Italy must rely on Emerson Palmieri, a man who has hardly kicked a ball for two years.
On the other side, Giovanni Di Lorenzo has delivered some hit and miss displays, most notably having his backside handed to him by Belgian wonderkid Jeremy Doku.
Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka must be licking their lips at the prospect of getting in behind these two not-so-defensive defenders.
Added to the lack of quality in the full-back area, there is also a genuine lack of pace at the heart of the defence. Bonucci and Chiellini are masters at positioning themselves in the right areas, but catch them off-guard and force them to chase back, and it’s like running through treacle.
Alvaro Morata’s goal against Italy should be the blueprint for England to follow if they want to beat the visitors – draw them out of position, complete a quick interchange and dart in behind. They’re not impenetrable.
Italy’s starting lineup is generally a force to be reckoned with, but behind those superstars, there are very few upgrades available. More significantly, the lack of big-match experience on their bench is seriously alarming.
That naivety showed against Spain, when the arrival of Domenico Berardi, Manuel Locatelli, Matteo Pessina and Rafael Toloi from the substitutes bench only worsened Italy’s peril, leaving the Azzurri’s Euro dreams hanging by a thread.
They’re good, exciting players, but they’re not the men to guide you through choppy seas – they’re no Jordan Henderson, for example.
Yes, Italy absolutely crushed it in the group stages, but take the knockout rounds in isolation, and there is very little to fear. Mancini’s men blew away the worst team in the tournament, Turkey, and dispatched of Switzerland with ease in their first two matches, both by a 3-0 scoreline.
But following the pedestrian win over Wales, performances have dipped. Italy laboured in the 2-1 win over Austria, and had Marko Arnautovic’s header been awarded, then they would have truly been tested.
The win over Belgium was impressive, even if they were holding on in the final minutes, but they enjoyed plenty of fortune sneaking past Spain on penalties. This group of players look a bit jaded.
When a team is creating less and conceding more chances, then they have to boast a reliable centre-forward who can put away whichever opportunities fall in his path. That man is not Ciro Immobile.
The Lazio star has been more hinderance than help to his teammates in the knockout rounds, and he was hooked by Mancini against Spain, only to be replaced by a non-centre-forward. Faith is waning in Immobile to deliver on the big stage, and if he misses an early chance against England, just watch the confidence drain from his body.
Andrea Belotti will be waiting in the wings.