Italy’s run to the final of Euro 2020 has, in many ways, highlighted a drastic shift in the country’s soccer culture. Roberto Mancini’s team is young, vibrant and adventurous, designed around a slick and technical midfield and imbued with a bright, attacking style.
If it was that vision of Italy that carried the team through the group stage and helped it sweep aside first Austria and then Belgium in the knockout rounds, the team’s semifinal victory against Spain was built on a more familiar iteration: ruthless and redoubtable, cast not in the porcelain image of Lorenzo Insigne and Marco Verratti but the unyielding concrete of Bonucci and Chiellini.
It is that Italy that England must overcome, on Sunday evening, if it is to lift the European Championship trophy: the Italy that not only finds pride in its defending but treats it with genuine relish. As Bonucci has previously said, “As a defender, you always like winning, 1-0.”
It has been that way for years for Italy, of course. Chiellini made his national team debut in 2004; Bonucci, only two years younger but a much later bloomer, joined him in 2010. Between them, they now have made 219 appearances for their country, the vast majority of them in tandem. They are so inseparable, at both club and international level, that one of Google’s suggested searches for them is: “Are Chiellini and Bonucci related?”
They are not, but even they admit they may as well be. “I think I know Bonucci better than I know my wife,” Chiellini has said.