Sports newspaper Il Corriere dello Sport boastfully geared up for the big occasion by claiming: “The whole world is supporting Italy”.
Rival paper Il Messaggero was a little more cautious. It just claimed on its front page: “The whole of Europe is supporting Italy.
They were not the only ones to take a patriotic approach to the match. An article titled “What the Euros say about England”, in La Stampa claimed that Gareth Southgate’s team was trying to make up for the “humiliation” of Brexit, with its performances in the tournament.
It also attacked the Prime Minister for his sudden love of football and even had harsh words about his relationship with his new wife, Carrie Symonds, after they attended the narrow semi-final victory over Denmark.
“Boris Johnson doesn’t love football, but he went to the semi-final against Denmark wearing an England t-shirt, shouting and fist-pumping so that everyone saw him… His wife Carrie looked like his carer trying to keep him quiet,” it read.
Elsewhere, the mood in Rome ahead of the big game was a mixture of excitement, optimism and a sober warning from the authorities for there to be no violence.
Saturday night in the Italian capital felt like the calm before the storm: subdued, relatively sober, the city’s concentration fixed on the events of the next day. One of Rome’s most popular British pubs, The Albert, was around a quarter full – and almost all the customers were Romans.
“I grew up in this pub,” said 42-year-old Andrea Mancini, who’s been propping up the bar since he was 18. “It’s a real English pub, and it’s the meeting place for the whole area.”
Mancini won’t be watching the final in the Albert, however. “It’s not ideal to be shoulder to shoulder [with the English] in the moment – we’ll be swearing and praying.”
Instead, he’ll be in a restaurant with his friends, willing on the “Azzurri”.
In fact, English faces will be thin on the ground at The Albert tonight. According to owner Sara Mandatori, those who have booked tables are be mainly Italians, whose ritual for any football match is to watch the game over a pint and a panino.
Mandatori – who is half Scottish, half Italian, and whose parents opened the pub 26 years ago – will quietly support Italy tonight, but promised to handle the match “very diplomatically”, whatever happens.
Having said that, if Italy wins, she said, she’ll be among the crowds jumping in the nearby Trevi Fountain to celebrate.
Shahrukh Shah, a Londoner who’s lived in Italy since 1996, said despite the bravado from some, Italians were fearful about tonight’s game
“Italy and England have always had this rivalry in football,” he said. “All the Italians I spoke to [during the tournament] predicted an Italy-England final.
“They’re scared of the England team, and so they should be.” On his YouTube channel, On the Volley, he confidently predicts a 4-0 win to England.
“Being an England fan in Italy this week is the same as it’s always been – brilliant.”
In the meantime, authorities in Rome are preparing for trouble.
After Italy’s semi-final against Spain, there were pockets of vandalism amid the general celebrations, including a group of fans attacking a bus, and bottles being thrown at police cars.
That has led to a crackdown for the final. Public transport apart from the metro will end at 9pm, and police are preparing to cordon off streets in the city centre, in a bid to semi-pedestrianise it. Fountains and other monuments will also be cordoned off, including the Spanish Steps, Campo de’ Fiori, and the Trevi Fountain.
Carrying glass bottles is banned from 7pm, and in addition to a large police presence, plain-clothes officers will be scanning the crowds for troublemakers.
To avoid overcrowding, there will be no parade through the streets for the team should Italy win.
Permission was denied to show the match on big screens in the Stadio Olimpico, where England won 4-0 against Ukraine in the quarter-finals.
Instead, Rome will have two fan zones – in Piazza del Popolo, one of the city’s main squares, and on the Via dei Fori Imperiali, near the Roman Forum.
But some Romans believe the authorities are overreacting.
“Having the national team playing isn’t like other games,” said Stefano Proietti, a taxi driver. “There’s much more fair play, and people just want to celebrate. I’m not afraid. Things are very calm.”
With that, he pulled down his t-shirt to show off the tattoo on his back in the colours of the Italian flag.
“When the national team play, I become very patriotic,” he said.
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