As we edge closer to the star-studded UEFA Euro 2020 final between Italy and England at the Wembley Stadium, there's a lot of excitement amongst both sets of supporters. I said at the start of the tournament that I fancy England to go all the way this time around and also mentioned that if there's one team that frightens me a little bit, it's Italy! In that sense, it's somewhat fitting that both sides have reached the Euro 2020 final and have done so by being two of the best teams in the competition so far.
Both semi-final ties went to extra-time and I could see at the full-time whistle that England and Italy were absolutely tanked after two grueling games of football. The England players had their hands on their knees after the win against Denmark; they showed incredible physical and mental strength to make it through to the final. As football fans, watching players in that state is a good feeling, as you feel like they've given it their all.
I spoke earlier about how Italy would react to conceding a goal in the tournament when they were on an impressive run of clean sheets, and their response to conceding against Austria was a positive one. Similarly, England's reaction to going behind against Denmark was largely positive, as they took the game to their opponents in the second half and improved progressively as the game went on.
Both sides are feeling good ahead of what could prove to be an eventful Euro 2020 final, but who will come out on top? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I've selected five players who could play a key role in deciding the game at the Wembley Stadium.
#5 Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips | West Ham United & Leeds United, England
I think of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips as one entity for England. You see the relationship between them - the way they play off each other and understand their respective roles has been superb to watch at Euro 2020. Gareth Southgate has opted to start both of them in each of England's last eight competitive games, indicating the solid bond they've forged in midfield.
The way England have been able to dominate games and see off teams over the course of Euro 2020 is largely down to Rice and Phillips and the control they give in the center of the park. Defensively, they ensure Jordan Pickford and the rest of the England backline don't face too much in the way of an attacking threat, while Phillips has also shown that he can make a defining contribution in the final third, as he provided the assist for Raheem Sterling's goal against Croatia in England's Euro 2020 opener.
The center of the pitch is absolutely vital, with Italy boasting the likes of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella. With Rice and Phillips, though, England have got two governors in midfield; they'll get stuck in, make tackles and also look for the odd pass into the final third if the situation calls for it.
Italy have been fantastic and are a dangerous side to come up against, so they'll obviously create their fair share of chances. England have been resolute at the back and have conceded just once at Euro 2020 so far — which was a Mikkel Damsgaard free kick in the semi-final against Denmark — but Rice and Phillips will have to be at their brilliant best to snuff out everything that comes their way. They gave it their all to emerge victorious against Denmark, but Italy will pose a different kind of challenge to them in midfield. In terms of effort, though, it'll be quite similar, so it'll be interesting to see who comes out on top at the Wembley Stadium.
#4 Harry Maguire | Manchester United, England
Harry Maguire came into Euro 2020 on the back of an impressive season with Manchester United despite starting rather slowly. However, he picked up an injury at the business end of the season and missed the UEFA Europa League final against Villarreal. After missing the first two group stage games at Euro 2020, he returned for the clash against the Czech Republic and has been an indispensable member of the team since.
He looks like a leader and his defensive positioning is top class. A lot of players have been contributing for England and you could even argue that it's a team filled with leaders, but Maguire hasn't been fazed at all at the back and has been exceptional alongside John Stones at the heart of the defense.
As the leader of the backline, he comes under tremendous pressure, but so far he's passed every test he's faced with flying colors. He will come up against the wise heads of the Italian backline in Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini and will be a massive set-piece threat for England. He's already got one Euro 2020 goal to his name and will look to add to his tally in the final. Defensively, whether the ball is played in the air on the ground, he'll be tasked with snuffing out everything that comes his way.
He took his time to get going in his first game against the Czech Republic, but he's been magnificent since then and has produced the goods consistently for Gareth Southgate. He's a massive figure for England and will definitely be one of their key players against Italy.