The Euros this time deserved a great finish, and it has got it so far. Both Spain and Italy delivered a game that was technically as good as any game you will see this year. In many ways it deserved to be a final with such quality from both sides in every area of the field. It might not have been a 5-3 goal fest, but for the connoisseur it was a memorable feast of football to be savoured.
The Chelsea connections were at the heart of it with Emerson, Cesar Azpilicueta and Jorginho all involved from the start and each having fine crucial moments during the first 90 minutes.
Old boy Alvaro Morata outdid them all before normal time was over however, with his magnificent equaliser after his brilliant movement even before he scored. There was never any question about his movement into dangerous areas at his time with Chelsea, the question was always more about what he would do when he actually got there. I for one was delighted for him when he slipped the ball past Donnarumma for the vital goal to take it to extra time.
The problem for Morata is that it is no surprise to anyone that it was his penalty miss that eventually led to his side going out of the competition. Believe it or not, I texted my friends before the shoot-out started with this precise phrase ‘OMG. I’ve had a horrible thought. Morata to miss the penalty that loses the game…that would sum up his Donald.’ (Donald means Donald Duck, i.e. luck for those not au fait with rhyming slang.)
'I played in the Euros the last time Denmark won it, and they were incredible outsiders then, more so than they are now.'
— Pat Nevin
From Spain’s phenomenal ball retention to the work-rate and desire of the Italians, there was an intensity throughout that looked improbable this late on in the season, let alone this late in the tournament or this late on in this particular game. It was extraordinarily impressive considering the 120 gruelling minutes. Italy tired near the end of extra time, but their game management at that point when they resorted to the ‘old-fashioned’ Italian style gave them the chance of penalties. They knew what they were doing all along.
In the end the question remains, can Italy play yet another game at that pace on Sunday evening in the final? Well for a kick-off, they have 24 hours more recovery time than their opponents will have, which will make a huge difference. They also know that they have the match intelligence to adapt to just about any circumstances and they have the bravery and quality needed.
If any moment was a perfect snapshot of that bravery, it was Jorginho’s penalty to take his country through to the final. To be able to walk up and have the cojones to do the little hop, skip and jump at that moment is a sign of greatness. I know not all Chelsea fans always admired him and held him in the esteem I always have, but surely unless you are Spanish you must admire a man who can be that calm in those circumstances. For goodness sake, the keeper knows he is going to do it, it is not a surprise and yet, he still backs himself in a shoot-out, with his reflexes, to wait for the keeper to move before he decides which way to go.
It is so much more difficult to do than it looks. More than admire him in that moment, I was proud of him. He now along with Emerson has one of the great doubles in his sights, Champions League winners and European champions in the same season. They have an incredible chance and indeed may just be favourites no matter who joins them later today.
Right now however the build up to the England v Denmark game is bringing a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘fever pitch.’ It doesn’t matter how Danish or English you are, if you are a player then Italy and the final is parked way back in the dark recesses of your brain. This one could be very tight indeed. I also suspect it will be a long way from being as technically impressive as the first semi-final.
While Spain and Italy were open and attack-minded when they could be, both teams tonight are generally much more structured and controlled in their play. Unless there is a first-half goal for either side, be prepared for a long night of tension.
England are favourites, but only just, maybe due to the home advantage as much as anything else. Have a look at the Danes’ record in the last five years. Apart from Belgium, the world’s number one team for most of that period, they have only had one loss and that was against Finland on that frightening day when we thought we had lost Christian Eriksen. To all intents and purposes, that result doesn’t really count because of the emotion of the occasion.
That back line of Vestergaard, Kjaer and our own Andreas Christensen is protected brilliantly by Delaney and Hojbjerg, with Schmeichel in behind. That is an incredibly tough bag of nuts to crack. England might be tempted to match up with a back five and two primarily defensive midfielders in front of them. If that is the case, there could be a war of attrition that will make the first semi-final look even better still in retrospect.
Does that matter? Not even slightly. Whichever teams goes through, they will not care jot. A chance of glory and the final on Sunday is all that matters. I played in the Euros the last time Denmark won it, and they were incredible outsiders then, more so than they are now. As for England, yes, the real fans know who England beat in the semi-finals to win the World Cup in 1966, but in reality, 99 per cent only care about the final and look back on that particular game.
People forget semi-finals in time, quite a short time usually, but if you get to the final and win it for your country, then in football terms you are immortal. Maybe for Bobby Charlton you might read Mason Mount. That is the immense possibility that lies ahead if you win tonight.
As a neutral, all I can say is may the best team win and whoever it is, there will be at least one Chelsea player lifting the trophy and delighting in an incredible double by the time Sunday night comes.