Roberto Mancini’s side stand in the way of England’s greatest night since 1966 — and Southgate warned that Italy would pose an even bigger challenge than Denmark, who forced extra-time on an enthralling and emotional night for the ages at the national stadium.
“I think Denmark have only lost four matches of 30 odd. Italy’s record is even better than that,” Southgate said. “They’ve been a top team over the last couple of years, we’ve followed their progress closely. We know the way they play. They play with great energy, with great style.
“They’re as difficult to score against as always. Without doubt they deserve to be in the final, they’ve beaten two top teams to get there in Belgium and Spain, so it’s the biggest possible test we could have. We’ve a day less to recover but we have to prepare from now. It’s wonderful to have that opportunity to take them on.”
Mancini has built a more open and adventurous Italy side than Azzurri teams of old, but they have retained the key characteristic of defensive nous which made them so successful in the past.
And in Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, Italy’s veteran centre-half pairing, England will contend with two grizzled legends of the game.
“Italy have shown some outstanding form and have some defensive warriors who have been through everything,” Southgate said.
“Finals are there to be won. We have to regroup and repair properly, because tonight has taken a lot out of [the players] emotionally and physically.”
At the end of a thrilling and nail-biting affair, the entire England squad joined together for a rendition of Sweet Caroline along with the majority of the 60,000 supporters at Wembley.
Southgate hailed his players for responding to Mikkel Damsgaard’s brilliant free-kick through a Simon Kjaer own goal and Harry Kane’s extra-time winner. Kane’s goal, which came on the rebound after his penalty was saved by Kasper Schmeichel, completed a reversal of England’s World Cup semi-final defeat by Croatia three years ago.
“I’m so proud of the players,” Southgate said. “It was an incredible occasion to be a part of. The fans were incredible all night.
“The game [against Ukraine] was so straightforward, we said to the players we’ll have to, at some point, show resilience and come back from some setbacks.
“Denmark are so under-rated. They caused us some problems. But when you’ve waited as long as we have to get through a semi-final, the players, when you consider their limited experience internationally, they’ve done an incredible job.”