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Pride and the passion at Euro2020

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Amid the bleakness of a raging COVID crisis, there will be a huge footballing occasion on Sunday when England vs Italy will do battle for the European crown.

Euro2020 has been a thoroughly entertaining football spectacular that has briefly diverted our attention from the pandemic.

There have been stories of triumph over adversity, none more so than Denmark’s emotional journey to the semi-finals after losing talisman and star player Christian Eriksen.

He collapsed from a cardiac arrest less than 30 minutes into the first game against Finland in Copenhagen.

CPR was administered, and his heart was restarted with a defibrillator as players shielded the medics – an indelible scene from this tournament.

His survival and recovery spurred on a nation to prove that football is more than just a game.

Fortunately, the Danes were defeated by England in the semi-final at Wembley, despite going in front.

It took a Harry Kane penalty to dismiss them in extra time, although many neutrals feel it wasn’t a foul on Raheem Sterling in the box.

The penalty may have been soft, but it was given; it is not the first to be awarded for minimal contact in the area. VAR also had a good look at it.

No team can win a tournament without a slice of luck, and England is due some in bucket loads after penalty shoot-out heartache, red card trickery, and the ‘Hand of God’.

Never mind the penalty controversy; England deserved the victory, and the Three Lions are in the final on merit.

The first final after 55 years of hurt.

Younger supporters might think its always been this way

But many England fans of a certain age have never seen the team reach a major tournament final since 1966.

It has been a journey of Gazza’s tears, broken toes and disappointment manufactured in Germany for the rest.

They fell short in the semis at Italia90, Russia2018, and Euro96, and there is the embarrassment of losing to Iceland and not qualifying for the 1974 world cup –the story goes on.

This is a chance at redemption, to lose that nearly-men tag, becoming winners, not the “wally with a brolly”.

A chance to rewrite history, to see potential fulfilled, a golden generation of achievers.

Guarding the gates of immortality are the Squadra Azzura – Italy must be overcome to lift the trophy at a packed Wembley.

A good team that has also lit up Euro2020 with staunch defending and swashbuckling counter attacks.

Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, but they have been unbeatable under former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini.

They head into Sunday’s final unbeaten in 33 matches guided by the excellent skipper veteran Giorgio Chiellini and top keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Arguably, Italy midfield maestro Jorginho is player of the tournament, alongside the irrepressible Sterling.

Italy knocked out Belgium, number one in the world, and then, in the semi-finals, dumped three-time European champions Spain on penalties.

It is the Azzurri’s 10th major tournament final and their fourth in the European Championship.

It is only England’s second final after 1966.

Gareth’s boys

Great credit for England’s unprecedented achievement must go to manager Gareth Southgate.

He has got every call right tactically, player selection, substitutions and breeding a confident, winning mentality.

England is in the final because they are a team fighting for each other, an unbreakable bond the country is now feeling stronger than ever.

Southgate has ensured the public fall in love with England again because they know the players who put on the shirt wear it with pride and honour.

Sunday’s final promises to be an intense Wembley thriller as two great adversaries give everything on the pitch to emerge victoriously.

Hopefully, it will be a fitting spectacle to an uplifting tournament that has had own goals galore, above-average refereeing and upsets along the way.

Like England, Italy is looking to complete its own redemption song by collecting the Euro2020 trophy.

Another trophy in the cabinet for a proud footballing nation, but England carry the weight of half a century of frustration.

We need to slay the dragon of anxiety and false hopes to walk into the light of a future where even winning is a distinct possibility.

The volcano is ready to erupt.

England expects.

It’s coming home.