Italy vs. England: ‘warriors’ Chiellini and Bonucci prepare for battle
Veteran defensive duo embody the spirit and passion of the Azzurri
When you hear the Italian national anthem playing ahead of kick-off at the Euro 2020 final against England, keep an eye on Italy’s players - and in particular, Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci - as they belt out the lyrics with pride and passion.
The rousing renditions of Il Canto degli Italiani (The Song of the Italians) has become a must-watch moment for football fans ahead of the Azzurri’s fixtures at Euro 2020. Italy’s national anthem is better known as Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), “after its opening line”, explains The Local. And the brotherhood between the players has been evident as Italy have come back from failing to qualify for the last World Cup to become finalists at the Euros.
A total of 60,000 fans will pack into Wembley for the final on Sunday, with the majority supporting the England team. But that won’t matter one bit to Chiellini (No.3) and Bonucci (No.19), Italy’s captain and vice-captain - because when that anthem begins, the duo are always ready to lead their team, and brothers, into battle.
‘Those two warriors at the back’
Chiellini, 36, and Bonucci, 34, have played together at Juventus for ten of the last 11 seasons. And the defensive lynchpins are serving as a “reliable base” for an Italian national team that is only one step away from winning “its second European Championship and the first in over 50 years”, says Bhargab Sarmah of the Hindustan Times.
Having won 111 and 108 caps for Italy respectively, Chiellini and Bonucci are in the twilight of their careers. All the same, they bring a wealth of experience to big-match situations, said England manager Gareth Southgate. Italy are a “fantastic team”, Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live, and “we know they have those two warriors at the back who have seen all this before”.
‘70 years of defensive knowhow’
Since Roberto Mancini took over as head coach in 2018, he has transformed the Italian team after they missed out on the last World Cup, in Russia. They are unbeaten since September 2018, a national record of 33 games, and this “accumulated confidence” from the run makes Italy favourites for Euro 2020 glory, says The National’s Ian Hawkey.
In the semi-final, Spain were “dazzling at times” at Wembley, “but as they passed their way into menacing territory, obliging Italy to retreat, they were confronted with 70 years of combined defensive knowhow in the form of Chiellini and Bonucci”.
Speaking ahead of the final, Chiellini said his defensive partnership with Bonucci was not the main reason Italy have done so well at the Euros. “We’ve played together for so many years at a high level,” he told Uefa.com. “Obviously, when your team does very well it’s normal people speak about [the partnership], but [getting acclaim] is not our main focus, because the only thing that really matters is that the team wins when the final whistle blows. The team does not win only thanks to Giorgio [Chiellini], Leo [Bonucci] or any other individual player. It’s the whole squad who are having a fantastic tournament, in every position. This is the only truth.”
‘You always like winning 1-0’
With Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal and “expert leaders” Bonucci and Chiellini in central defence, “scoring against Italy will not be an easy mission for any striker”, said Matteo Vitale in his Euro 2020 preview for Tribal Football.
Speaking before the tournament began, Bonucci said “unity” was the “star” of the Italian team and that defending as a group was key.
“When you keep a clean sheet, that’s not just down to the defenders because if you don’t have the whole team working with you, that wall will come down,” he told Uefa.com. “I am so glad we’ve not just seen attractive, attacking football, but also everyone getting their hands dirty. As a defender, you always like winning 1-0.”
Scoring one goal and not conceding is the magic formula to winning football matches. And England manager Southgate knows “the size of the task” that the Three Lions, and especially forwards Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, face when they go up against the two defensive warhorses on Sunday.
Former England boss Sam Allardyce told Sky Sports that “pace could be the key” for England at Wembley. Although Chiellini and Bonucci may lack some speed, they more than make up for it in terms of their reading of the game and positioning.
Leading his team with charm, the “grinning warrior” Chiellini gives Italy a “psychological edge”, says The Guardian’s Nicky Bandini. When he returned to the starting XI for the quarter-final against Belgium, Italy midfielder Matteo Pessina said: “You know how important he is for us on a physical and psychological level. He lifts the whole team.”
This is a man who “embodies the never-say-die spirit” of an Italian team who are unbeaten in 33 outings under Mancini’s tutelage, says talkSPORT. “Make no mistake about it: England will have to go to war and Chiellini - who has broken his nose five times during battle - will be relishing every moment of it.”
Chiellini vs. Kane: a key battle
England captain Kane should “beware” as he now faces Chiellini, one of the “toughest opponents in world football”, says Alvise Cagnazzo on the MailOnline. Nicknamed the “gorilla” in his homeland, Italy’s talisman “looks like a pantomime villain with his scouring, gruff face” and “resembles an ogre in a fairy tale”. But in reality, he has a “heart of gold and a personality that means he is the perfect captain for both club and country”.
Chiellini says the battle with Kane will be “extremely tough”. “He knows how to play deep and how to play a defence-splitting pass for a team-mate,” the Italian skipper told Uefa.com. “He scores with his head and from long and close range.”
After 50 matches, it comes down to just one final game at Euro 2020. Both Chiellini and Kane will be hoping to lead their teams to glory at Wembley on Sunday and the tussle between the captains could well decide which one lifts the Henri Delaunay trophy.
It promises to be an epic encounter. Let battle commence.