Euro 2020: England must beware the pressure of playing mine host

IT HAS been 37 years since a host nation won the European Championship, a golden tournament that witnessed Michel Platini stand imperiously astride the continent with a highly seductive France side. England, the de facto hosts of Euro 2020, have the chance to do likewise, but it won’t be easy – hosts don’t often prosper in this competition.

England’s trump card (we really need to replace that description) is not so much home status, but the partisan audience that has come out of hiding in recent weeks. We’ve become unaccustomed to the sound of the crowd over the past year and a half, but in the semi-final at Wembley, the noise was deafening, the intention unequivocal. The presence of spectators was almost unnerving and this could be turned to England’s advantage on July 11.

Never mind that the Euros may herald the beginning of another upturn in covid cases, if England win, it will be akin to uncorking a vigorously shaken-up bottle of sparkling wine. After 55 years of “hurt”, It could get out of control.


England versus Italy is one of those finals that “perfect world” romantics often dream about. Along with England v Brazil and England v Germany, it ranks as one of those clashes the marketing department genuinely hope for. It will never be too arduous to sell England v Italy, but it might have been harder to sell Denmark v Spain or Denmark v Belgium. UEFA must be relieved that two blue riband nations are playing in the final.

But England have to beware. The last two hosts to reach the final have both been beaten – Portugal in 2004 and France in 2016. Only three times have hosts won the Henri Delaunay Trophy: Spain in 1964, Italy in 1968 and France 1984. If you consider Europe’s big five leagues to be England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, then the Euro final has featured big five derbies four times in the past: 1984 (France v Spain); 2000 (France v Italy); 2008 (Spain v Germany); and 2012 (Spain v Italy). 

On the face of it, this is a tight final, although England will be favourites with many people. In competitive games over the past two tournaments (World Cup 2018/Euro 2020) and their qualifiers, Italy have a win rate of 78.57% and England 76.7%. Italy have played 28 games, despite being absent at the World Cup in Russia, and England have played 30. In total, Italy, under Roberto Mancini, have embarked on an unbeaten run of more than 30 games.

England have the advantage of younger legs. Of the Italian starting XI that won the semi-final,  four were 30 or over. Admittedly, players like Giorgio Chiellini are polished veterans, but England’s only 30-something was Kyle Walker, and he’s still got muscle and speed. Italy have played almost all of their 26-man squad at some stage, goalkeeper Alex Meret is the only member of the party not have been fielded for at least five minutes. England, meanwhile, have used 21 of their 26 players with six starting every game compared to just three Italian ever-presents.

England will also be favourites because they have the most valuable squad. According to Transfermarkt, the entire England squad is valued at over £ 1 billion, while Italy’s is £ 676 million. Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount were already among the most coveted players in Europe, but to that list Bukayo Saka will surely be added after Euro 2020. Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden may get their chance next year in Qatar, but they have been used sparingly. For Italy, more people now know about Nicoló Barella, Federico Chiesa, Lorenzo Insigne and Leonardo Spinazzola. 


In the back of Gareth Southgate’s mind must surely be the knowledge that England rarely beat Italy in serious matches. In fact, their only victory in competitive action was in 1977 when England won 2-0 at Wembley in a World Cup qualifier. Times have changed since Italy’s defence-minded approach would intimidate opponents, but it does seem as though the “Azzurri” are in the ascendancy once more. But then so are England, who have found the recipe to tournament management. It has been a long time coming, but the strength of the unit is there for all to see. 

So too is the team’s confidence and ability to surge forward. Sterling and Saka seem to scare the living daylights out of defenders, if only for their habit of inviting costly challenges. And at corners and free-kicks, the leaping brick wall that is Harry Maguire appears to win everything. 

Southgate seems to have found a similar kind of “men for the job” approach that served Sir Alf Ramsey so well in 1966. Not everyone would have selected Maguire, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice and Raheem Sterling, but Southgate has resisted the call for popular choices like Grealish and Foden to rely on those he trusts the most. Like Ramsey, he has seen his team improve as the competition has progressed, shrugging aside the sceptics. And like Ramsey, he could be invited to the Palace when it is all over. Buckingham, that is.


Photo: Alamy

Manchester City’s three best teams

MANY people believe that the current Manchester City team is probably their best ever. It is certainly their most expensive and most successful although the club’s modern-day achievements are often dismissed due to the inflated investment made in the club. However, nobody can deny the quality of football being played by Pep Guardiola’s side or the depth of talent that has been assembled.

City have won 19 major honours but 10 of those have some since 2010-11. For many years, they were one of the big underachievers in the English game, the high spot being the period between 1967-68 and 1969-70 when they won four prizes.

In Game of the People’s 1001 Floodlit Dreams series, we are about to induct the following City teams in the roll of honour:


Jack Hillman, Johnny McMahon, Herbert Burgess, Sammy Frost, Tommy Hynds, Sam Ashworth, Billy Meredith, George Livingstone, Billie Gillespie, Sandy Turnbull, Frank Booth, Lot Jones, John Edmondson, George Dorsett, Irvine Thornley.

Manager: Tom Maley

Achievements: 1902-03 – Football League Division Two champions; 1903-04 FA Cup winners, Football League Division One runners-up.

Five year record (1901-02 to 1905-06): 18 – 1 – 2 – 3 – 5

Summary: Newly-promoted City beat Bolton Wanderers 1-0 in the 1904 cup final thanks to a Billy Meredith goal. They finished three points behind The Wednesday in the league, despite being top in the final week.

Manchester City’s Billy Meredith (l) charges down the wing

Key men:

Billy Meredith – Iconic winger who won 48 Welsh caps. A winger with superb balance and agility, capable of excellent crosses and long-range shooting. Banned from playing for his part in a bribery scandal, he joined Manchester United.

Billie Gillespie – Bustling centre forward who scored 126 goals in 218 league games for City.

Sandy Turnbull – Scottish inside forward who played for City and United. Also banned during the bribery scandal. Died in the first world war in Arras.


Harry Dowd, Ken Mulhearn, Joe Corrigan, Glyn Pardoe, David Connor, Tony Book, George Heslop, Tommy Booth, Mike Doyle, Alan Oakes, Mike Summerbee, Colin Bell, Neil Young, Tony Coleman, Francis Lee, Ian Bowyer, Tony Towers.

Manager: Joe Mercer

Achievements: Football League champions 1967-68, FA Cup winners 1968-69, Football League Cup winners 1969-70, European Cup-Winners’ Cup winners 1969-70.

Five-year record (1967-68 to 1971-72): 1 – 13 -10 – 11- 4

Summary: Exciting young team, managed by Mercer and coached by the innovative and often wayward Malcolm Allison. Attack-minded, with some exceptional individuals.

The victorious Manchester City players drinking a toast in champagne after beating Newcastle United by four goals to three at Newcastle to become champions in 1968.

Key men:

Colin Bell – High energy midfielder known as “Nijinsky” after the race horse. Signed from Bury and became one of the most dynamic midfield players of the 1970s. England international, 48 caps. Career ended by injuries.

Francis Lee – Stocky striker who was tenacious and direct. Signed from Bolton Wanderers, he won 27 England caps. Scored 112 league goals in 249 games before joining Derby in 1974.

Mike Summerbee –  Fiery right winger who was signed from Swindon Town. Won eight England caps.


Ederson, Kyle Walker, Danilo, Vincent Kompany, John Stones, Aymeric Laporte, Ilkay Gündogan, Nicolás Otamendi, Fabian Delph, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Fernandinho, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Agüero, Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling.

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Achievements: Premier League champions 2017-18 and 2018-19, FA Cup winners 2018-19, Football League Cup winners 2017-18 and 2018-19.

Five-year record (2014-15 to 2018-18): 2 – 4 – 3 – 1 – 1

Summary: Outstanding footballing team built by wealthy owners, combining ruthless efficiency with individual skill and rapier-like finishing.

Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring the fifth goal during the FA Cup Final match at Wembley Stadium, London.

Key men:

Kevin De Bruyne – Versatile midfielder who rose to prominence at Wolfsburg after an aborted spell at Chelsea. Signed for City in 2015 for £ 55 million and became a pivotal figure in the club’s success. 72 caps for Belgium.

Raheem Sterling – Signed by City from Liverpool in 2015 for £ 44 million. A versatile player who can play as striker, winger or attacking midfielder. Has already won more than 50 caps for England.

Sergio Agüero – Outstanding striker who has scored 231 goals in 339 games since signing from Atlético Madrid in 2011 for £ 35 million. Classic centre forward with a high level of tactical intelligence.


There are other contenders for our roll call – the City league champions of 1937 that were relegated a year later, and the FA Cup winners of 1956. The fact is, this is City’s time, so it is more likely that the club’s best teams may not have taken the field yet. One thing is certain, the current regime at the club will undoubtedly insist on more trophies and more players being added to the list of great players who have represented Manchester City.



Photos: PA