Arsene Wenger has described Euro 2020 as the tournament of “short-sized players” such as finalists Raheem Sterling and Lorenzo Insigne.
The pan-European games draw to a close at Wembley this Sunday with hosts England playing in their first major tournament final since 1966. Gareth Southgate’s men will square off against Italy who are seeking to join France and Germany as multiple European and World champions.
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Roberto Mancini’s side have won many neutrals over with their brand of attacking football, which is counter to previous Azzurri teams. No moment illustrated this point better than Italy’s opening win over Turkey when, for the first time, they registered at least three goals in a single European Championship game.
As for the opponents on Sunday, they began slowly with narrow 1-0 wins over Croatia and Czech Republic either side of a 0-0 draw with Scotland, but on both winning occasions, the Three Lions were grateful to Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling, who has silenced his critics.
The 26-year-old forward was also on hand to score in England’s impressive round-of-16 success over Germany, and his Napoli counterpart Insigne proved too much for Belgium in the following stage. Wenger consequently believes this summer has been about them and others of similar stature while noting the lack of counter-attacks being finished off after long runs.
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“It’s the first time a tournament is played with five substitutes. It has reduced the level of fatigue because when you play with three, you play only two because the last one you have to change in the last five to ten minutes in case you have an injury. It has reduced the difference between the teams,” he told beIN SPORTS.
“The second thing I’ve noticed in this tournament, which is quite interesting, the less goals scored on the counter-attack with long runs. It is basically the tournament of the short-sized players who are very quick and agile in small spaces. It is the tournament of Sterling, Insigne, Pedri and Damsgaard.
“Players who are very quick off the mark and very agile in small spaces because you always play against ten players in the final third and these players are the players in this tournament like Jordi Alba who are quick off the mark in the last three or four meters who are technically good. These players have made the difference.”
Coming of age
Raheem Sterling’s international career has been filled with plenty of ups and downs. Often criticised for not bringing his club form whenever representing England, the Londoner broke a personal duck when scoring against Croatia earlier this month. It was the first time Sterling had netted at a major international tournament. He’s since registered a strike past the Czech Republic and Germany before playing a key role in the Three Lions’ semi-final win over Denmark.
The speedster first forced Simon Kjaer into an own-goal to equalize for England, before winning a controversial penalty deep into extra-time which Harry Kane failed to convert, though Kasper Schmeichel’s inability to either catch the ball or parry away safely presented the Tottenman marksman a second chance and he obliged. Southgate’s team ran out 2-1 winners and Sterling was adamant Dutch referee Danny Makkelie made the right call. “I went into the box and he stuck his right leg out, and it touched my leg so it was a clear penalty,” he said post-match. The focus will now be on ending England’s 55-year wait for a major international title.