England are bidding to become the official European champions at Wembley on Sunday night… and also the unofficial kings of the world.
Gareth Southgate’s men will have the eyes of the nation on them when they take on Italy at Wembley, bidding to lift the country’s first major title since the World Cup all the way back in 1966.
Football fever has gripped the nation as Southgate’s men have plotted their way through the competition, but they will now face their toughest opposition to date in the form of Roberto Mancini’s Italy.
The Azzurri are on an incredible 32-match unbeaten run, and arrive at Wembley holding the title of the unofficial world champions.
Of course we all know that it is France who are officially recognised as world champions after they lifted the World Cup in Russia back in 2018, but it is Italy who hold the unofficial crown which was devised by journalist Paul Brown in 2003.
His format tracks international football all way back to the first ever international match between Scotland and England back in 1872, and awards a winner based on results over the years in a knockout basis where the winner becomes the new champion, similar to professional boxing.
That first game between the Scots and the English was a goalless draw meaning that the title remained unclaimed until England beat Scotland 4-2 four months later. Every result since then has been tracked, with the title going to the winners until they lose their next match, and so on.
The title was shared between the Home Nations for its first almost 60 years of existence due to their unwillingness to play teams from overseas, but when Austria beat Scotland 5-0 in 1931 they became holders and the title has been passed around the world ever since.
Italy became the current holders when they beat the Netherlands in a UEFA Nations League game in Amsterdam in September last year, and they have successfully defended it 17 times through friendlies, more Nations League matches, World Cup qualifiers and their six matches at this Euros against Turkey, Switzerland, Wales, Austria, Belgium and Spain.
Should England claim the crown by beating Italy on Sunday then it will be their first time as holders for 21 years.
England boss Gareth Southgate is calling on the home fans to roar his side to success at Wembley, citing how much the crowd has changed and improved during his time in charge of the national team.
“When we started, three or four years ago we had people throwing paper aeroplanes, they weren’t behind the team and there was an apathy,” he said.
“Now the energy in the stadium is fantastic. That is so important.
“The players need to feel that warmth and support. It has definitely helped inspire us.
“Over the last four years the players have knocked down so many barriers, they’ve come through so many different challenges.”
On the prospect of fans booing the Italy anthem, he said: “It’s important that our fans always respect the opposition.
“We know that in actual fact, when we play abroad and fans boo our anthem, it probably inspires us even more. We should be respectful.”