LONDON — Wembley Stadium was locked down briefly two hours before Sunday’s Euro 2020 final after fans rushed past security officials outside the stadium and tried to enter the arena.
The fans appeared to overwhelm an outnumbered security detachment, with some racing up stairways or into the stadium concourses as they tried to gain access to the match.
Officers on horseback soon flooded the area as security staff members reinforced the barriers that had been breached.
The police had worried about the prospect of having thousands of ticketless fans turn up at Wembley after hundreds found their way into England’s semifinal victory against Denmark on Wednesday. The stadium’s capacity — normally about 90,000 — has been reduced to about 66,000 on Sunday as part of a pandemic accommodation with British public health officials.
Dan Tyler, an England fan from Romford in east London, said he saw the stadium perimeter breached on three occasions. His son Oliver, 10, described himself as “petrified” as the police and stadium security worked to restore order and repair fences that had been torn down.
“The stewards got smashed,” Dan Tyler said. “They just got steamrollered.”
Some staff and volunteers, including a group that had been assigned to help disabled fans and those in wheelchairs, were told to lock down and not venture outside of the stadium concourse. Stadium stewards described how some of those involved in the breach managed to make it inside the stadium by pushing through behind fans that held tickets.
Elsewhere in London on Sunday, tens of thousands of fans spent the day warming up for the final in pubs and bars that were either fully pre-booked or filled up as soon as they opened.
At the Crooked Billet, a pub in east London, soccer fans were already lining up at 6:30 a.m. when the owner, Michael Buurman, arrived to prepare for a busy day. By midmorning, he said, thousands of people were standing in line to get in. “It’s been insane, and we’re still hours away from the game,” he said on Sunday afternoon. By then, more 6,000 pints had already been sold.
A festive atmosphere has already filled London’s streets early in the day, with cars honking and fans chanting, but as the alcohol flowed and day went on, the mood shifted in places. But in Leicester Square and other areas of central London, garbage filled the streets where fans had gathered before heading to Wembley, and the sound of cheers and songs mixed with that of breaking glass as bottles and other items were tossed in the air.
Clashes between inebriated fans broke out in Trafalgar Square and other parts of the city as outnumbered police officers, although patrolling en masse, struggled to keep the situation from getting out of hand. And at Wembley, the situation was tense after the security breach.
The Metropolitan Police has urged people to behave safely, reminding that London was still in a public health crisis, and that the terror threat remained substantial, with an attack “likely,” it said.
“If you don’t have a ticket to the matches or fan zone or an official booking for a pub, bar or club my message is clear: Please do not come to London,” the deputy assistant commissioner Laurence Taylor said in a statement.
Sunday’s final will draw the largest attendance of this year’s European Championship. Scores of supporters, many not wearing masks, also packed trains to London on Sunday to gather in the city’s most central spots like London Bridge or Leicester Square.
Research released this week showed that men in England were currently 30 percent more likely to be infected with the coronavirus than women. One of the report’s co-authors suggested that the higher rates of infections among men were likely explained by changes in social behaviors like watching soccer.
Britain reported another 31,772 coronavirus cases on Sunday, and 26 deaths.
The starting lineups are out and England’s Gareth Southgate has made only one change: bringing in the reliable back Kieran Trippier in place of Buyako Saka, a more adventurous midfielder, as a counter to Italy’s attack.
That could allow England to play in a 3-4-3, a system it has used before, with a back three of Kyle Walker, John Stones and Harry Maguire and Trippier and Luke Shaw working the wings next to Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips. That could be viewed as caution on Southgate’s part — it is clearly a more defensive team. But there is also a view that it could be an effort to lock down the center, and prevent Italian attackers like Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne from cutting into spaces inside, while his wing backs press Italy’s defense from the outside.
Its success — or failure — may turn out to be the final word on Southgate’s tournament.
England: Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire; Kieran Trippier, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips, Luke Shaw; Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling; Harry Kane.
Italy’s Roberto Mancini makes no changes, sticking with the team that he sent out for the semifinal victory against Spain.
Italy: Gianluigi Donnarumma; Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, Emerson Palmieri; Nicolò Barella, Jorginho, Marco Verratti; Federico Chiesa, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne.
England has been waiting for some time. More than half a century, in fact. Its mood, over the decades, has veered between frustrated and furious, hopeful and resigned. It has endured countless false starts and even more false dawns. It has, in a way, grown quite good at waiting. It is only now that the impatience has set in. After all those years, it is the last few hours that have proved the hardest.
Leicester Square, right in the heart of London, was thronged from late in the morning on Sunday, wreathed in the cordite smoke of flares and fireworks. Fans had started arriving on Wembley Way, in the shadow of the stadium that will host tonight’s final of Euro 2020, earlier even than that. Long lines snaked out of pubs around the country almost as soon as they opened.
But perhaps the best gauge of the mood of the nation — the mixture of foot-tapping restiveness and dazed giddiness that has set in over the last few days — is that, in the middle of it all, the Queen (or at least her social media team) showed her support for Gareth Southgate’s team by issuing a tweet that contained nothing but three lion emojis.
She had written a more formal note, too, congratulating the team not just on reaching the final but on the way it had comported itself on the way there. There had been a message from Prince William, the ceremonial head of England’s Football Association, and another from Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister. The country has spent a week humming Neil Diamond and “Three Lions” and Atomic Kitten. England jerseys have sold out. So, too, apparently, has Southgate’s favored polka-dot tie.
Ordinarily, where England is concerned, any amount of euphoria is reflexively tempered by caution and by strife: The fear of what might be lost tends to outweigh the hope of what might be won. And yet, for all that there is a respect for its opponent, Italy, with its grizzled central defenders and its inventive midfield and its illustrious history, there is no sense of impending doom.
Indeed, even the suggestion that Southgate might change his team — drafting in Kieran Trippier, a defender, for the forward Bukayo Saka, better to stifle Italy’s threat — has been greeted with acquiescence.
That is a measure of how Southgate has performed over the last month: He has made big decisions and been vindicated repeatedly. Even an English public conditioned to expect the worst has managed, just about, to suspend its disbelief.
But it is also, perhaps, a sign of how this team is now viewed: not, like previous incarnations, as an uneasy and mercurial blend of disparate talent that is prone to collapse as soon as conditions are not favorable, but as a sleek, smart, stubborn side, one imbued with a sense of purpose and a confidence in its approach. It does not feel it is here by chance; its self-assurance has diffused around the country.
Italy, certainly, will be its greatest test, a level above any team it has played thus far in this tournament, a side no less self-possessed, one with no less sense of destiny. England will need to be as good as it thinks it is to win. There are still hours to go. All the country can do, for now, is wait.
Earlier this week, Natasha Hamilton sent a message to everyone she could think of, urging them to buy or download or stream the song her band, Atomic Kitten, had just released. “Let’s get this to No. 1 on Sunday,” she told them. When they started replying, she said on Instagram Live, she was surprised to discover that the charts are now released on Friday.
It has, for Atomic Kitten, been a while. The band’s big moment came almost 20 years ago; for much of the last decade or so, though they have toured frequently and become a fixture on the nostalgia circuit, they have rarely troubled the charts. That changed, almost in an instant, this week.
One of the band’s biggest hits — “Whole Again,” a No. 1 single in 2001 — has long since been adapted by England fans as a homage to the team’s coach, Gareth Southgate. When a video of Hamilton and her bandmate, Liz McClarnon, performing it to a crowd of England fans at a venue in Croydon, south London, went viral last weekend, the band hurriedly decided to record, and release, the new version.
It broke into the Top 40 within a few hours of its release. It was at No. 36 when Hamilton started her Instagram Live, on Wednesday; by the time McClarnon joined her, a few minutes later, it had risen to 24th. “Crazy,” Hamilton said. “I’m 39 this month. It is not normal for a woman of that age to succeed in the pop industry. I’m beyond proud.”
Atomic Kitten is not the only band riding that wave. The charts — far more fragmented than they were in the group’s heyday — encapsulate how pervasive the impact of England’s success has been on the country’s cultural life. “Three Lions,” initially released in 1996, currently sits 21st in the official chart; it is fourth in the iTunes chart.
“Sweet Caroline,” the Neil Diamond song that booms out before and after games at Wembley, is second in that ranking, and Hamilton and her bandmates were fifth with their new release (“Whole Again” itself is 30th).
The most curious new standard, and certainly the least English one, is “Sweet Caroline,” a Neil Diamond hit that came out in 1969 — three years after England’s last major tournament championship, the 1966 World Cup.
“It’s kind of become like a good-luck charm in this tournament,” said Tony Perry, who has been the D.J. for the matches at Wembley Stadium.
“Sweet Caroline” may seem like an odd anthem for sports fans. It’s a love song, and the lyrics (“Good times never seemed so good!”) are sentimental. But there’s something about the way the bridge builds to a soaring chorus that always seems to lift spectators out of their seats.
So Perry was not surprised when the song got another jubilant response on Wednesday, after England beat Denmark, 2-1, in extra time, to reach the final. Diamond, too, said he was happy to hear it again, and that he had been watching videos online of fans’ belting it out.
“It’s a song to celebrate good things, and it seems to bring good luck to those who embrace it,” Diamond said. “It’s also a song of unity and can bring together even the fiercest of competitors. But of course I want England to win because I love the way they sing it with such gusto.”
There are a lot of things that everybody knows about Harry Kane. There is the fact that he is the captain of England’s national soccer team, a status that bestows upon its bearer the sort of profile unavailable to most athletes, particularly in tournament years. It is part-of-the-furniture fame, royal family fame. Everyone has heard of Harry Kane.
Then there are the goals. Harry Kane scores goals with startling efficiency. He scores goals with both feet and with his head. He scores goals from close range and from long distance, for good teams and bad. He does not really seem to be subject to things like form or confidence. He simply started scoring goals seven years ago and never stopped.
He currently scores them for Tottenham Hotspur, but that, too, may be changing soon. In the buildup to Euro 2020, a drip feed of interviews has made it clear that, in Harry Kane’s mind, he may need to move on after this summer, if he is to fulfill his ambition of winning collective awards, rather than individual ones.
There is one other thing we know about Kane, though, after the last month. One thing stands out above all others, ahead of all the goals and the stories and the fame.
“England is No. 1 for me,” Kane said in an interview with The New York Times weeks before the Euros. “It is the biggest thing you can achieve. I dreamed of playing for England, but I also dreamed of winning something for England. That is on top of my list.
“You play Premier Leagues and Champions Leagues every year, but a major tournament only comes around once every two years. The window is a lot smaller. To win something with England: That would be No. 1.”
Sunday’s final at London’s Wembley Stadium is being broadcast in the United States by ESPN and Univision, and via their ESPN+ and TUDN streaming platforms. But, of course, many Times readers are not in the United States.
To find out where you can watch the final in the country where you live — UEFA has television partners from Afghanistan and Albania to Zambia and Zimbabwe, and everywhere in between — search this list on the organization’s website.
The teams, meanwhile, are on their way.
As fans filled the streets outside Wembley again on Sunday ahead of the Euro 2020 final, it is worth remembering that it was not by chance that all four semifinalists — England, Italy, Spain and Denmark — played all three of their group games at home, reducing the amount of time and energy they might have lost to travel over the course of the monthlong championship.
Scheduling, too, was most likely a relevant factor in how much Denmark tired in its semifinal against England, days after it had been forced to travel to Baku, Azerbaijan, in the previous round, while England had made the comparatively shorter trip — its only venture outside it borders in a month — to Rome.
There is always a host nation at a major tournament, of course, and the host nation always has an advantage — in surroundings, in scheduling, in stadiums. But in ordinary circumstances, every team in the tournament takes a base in that country to reduce travel time. On a practical if not a spiritual level, the playing field is level.
But even before the pandemic, Euro 2020 was a logistical nightmare: 11 stadiums in 11 cities spread across four time zones, all subject to different local conditions. There will be no appetite within European soccer to stage a pan-continental tournament again.
And that, frankly, is a good thing. Not simply because something is lost, however slight and insignificant, when a tournament is not hosted by a single nation — drawing in fans from across the world, changing the fabric of the place it calls home, even if it is only for a month — but because the diffusion of the games has compromised the integrity of the competition.
That does not mean either Italy or England will be an undeserving champion. They have been the two best teams in the tournament (rather than the two with the most talented individuals). Both warrant their places in the final. But both have enjoyed far from universal conditions.
It would be helpful if that did not happen again.
The battle for the Golden Boot, awarded to the tournament’s top scorer, will be decided today, and the England forwards Harry Kane (four goals) and Raheem Sterling (three) seem to be the only two players left with a realistic chance to catch the current leaders, Patrick Schick and Cristiano Ronaldo, who both scored five before departing Euro 2020.
But in reality the race for the tournament’s top scorer has been over for weeks, and the own goal has won it going away.
There have been 11 own goals at Euro 2020, more than the combined total that were scored in the 15 previous editions of the European Championship.
There have been unlucky goals. Strange goals. Slap-your-forehead goals. They have been scored by midfielders and defenders and goalkeepers.
In retrospect, the tournament’s first goal — an Italy cross turned into Turkey’s net by one of its defenders, Merih Demiral — was probably an omen we all should have taken more seriously.
That marked the first time the tournament had opened its account with a player scoring against his own team, but in the four weeks since that night, the own goals have kept coming. Spain was the beneficiary of two of them in a 5-0 win over Slovakia, and Portugal managed to score two on itself — only four minutes apart — in a 4-2 loss to Germany.
Pedri’s, the opening goal in Spain’s memorable round-of-16 victory against Croatia, might have been the worst of the bunch …
… but it had some solid competition for that title:
The most recent one, No. 11 overall, even helped send Denmark out in the semifinals:
Will the final get us to an even dozen? One would hope not. England, for one, would never live it down.
BEDFORD, England — Whoever wins on Sunday, one English town will be celebrating: Bedford, home to one of England’s largest Italian communities, has been limbering up for what many hope will be “a friendly game” — with, still, a victory for Italy in the end.
“Italy won Eurovision; now it’s time to win the Euros,” Joseph Lionetti, 27, said as he served coffees and Italian sandwiches at the family-owned Piazza cafe in central Bedford.
Lionetti, whose father, Liberato, is Italian and whose mother is English, said he was feeling “50-50” about the match: a victory for Italy would be great, he said, and one for England, “just fine.”
About 14,000 Bedford residents, or one fifth of the town’s population, are either Italian or of Italian descent. On Sunday morning, there were as many Italian jerseys out as English ones.
“There might be some bickering and ‘Ha Ha, you lost!’ tonight,” Liberato Lionetti said in the kitchen of La Piazza cafe. “But tomorrow we’ll be working together again.”
The Italian community grew in Bedford in the 1950s, when workers from southern Italy came to fill the town’s brickworks factory. Now pizzerias, gelato shops and Italian cafes fill the city center, and Bedford has earned the nickname of England’s Little Italy.
Alfonso Bravoco, the owner of the Mamma Concetta pizzeria, said he had to turn down all customers looking for a table on Sunday: His restaurant will be closed.
“My staff is all Italian, they’re not going to enjoy the game if they have to work,” he said. (Mr. Bravoco said he would watch the game at a cousin’s home in London that will be filled with Italian fans.)
For every Italy win, the tradition in Bedford has been to head down the town’s riverside to honk car horns, dance and wave Italian flags. That hasn’t come without kerfuffles in the past.
English and Italian fans clashed in Bedford in 2012 when Italy defeated England in the quarterfinals of the European Championship, and in 2014, English fans burned an Italian flag after Italy defeated England in a group stage game at the World Cup. The local police force urged resident to be “sensible” and behave responsibly on Sunday, no matter how the game turned out.
Still, some Italian fans said they would stay at home even if Italy wins because of the previous incidents. “It’s always a minority causing trouble, but I can’t risk it with the children, so we’ll be celebrating at home,” Massimo Ciampi said as he welcomed friends — Italian and English — into his house for a soccer party.
This week, Italian business owners like Lionetti and Bravoco have encouraged supporters from both sides to show fair play on Sunday night. “We’re lucky to be able to celebrate, we’re lucky to even have this tournament in the first place,” Lionetti said. “England and Italy have had some rough time lately,” he said, referring to the coronavirus pandemic.
On the town’s square on Sunday, nervous supporters from both sides mingled one last time before the final. “If England wins, I’ll go home crying my eyes out,” said the 74-year-old Pasquale Iantosca, sitting on a bench with friends gathering around to consult him on his predictions.
“Come on,” said Steven Brown, a 53-year-old English fan, “How long have you been here?”
It’s been 65 years, Iantosca said as he caressed the top of his Italy hat and unzipped his jacket to unveil a shirt from Italy’s last trophy, in the 2006 World Cup.
“Forza Azzurri,” he said, grinning.
Every year is a big soccer year in Italy. When the national league finishes, victorious fans parade through city streets in their cars and mopeds. But it is during the international competitions that the Italian soccer fanaticism takes on a semblance of religious faith.
“God Is Italian,” read the headline of a national sports newspaper earlier this week, exalting a victory over Spain in the semifinals. On Sunday, Italy will try to beat England, in London, to add a new chapter to its storied soccer history. It has already been quite a month.
Four years after the national team faced the humiliation of failing to qualify for the World Cup, Italy — embracing a mix of youth and fun and its usual defensive excellence — has reset the expectations of its fans. This weekend, the team carries on its shoulders the hopes of a nation badly battered by the coronavirus but making its way out of the pandemic.
Despite restrictions that still require masks and social distancing, especially indoors, people have been watching the games in large crowds and celebrating on the streets.
“With all caution, people need some normality and the national team this year is a reason to be proud and joyful after so much suffering,” said Daniele Magnani, an amateur soccer coach, who was visiting the national soccer museum in Florence with his wife.
England vs. Italy is not the only major final this weekend.
In Rio de Janeiro on Saturday night, Lionel Messi finally ticked the last empty box in his glittering soccer career by leading Argentina past host Brazil, 1-0, in the final of the Copa América, the South American continental championship.
The trophy was Messi’s first after a string of painful, agonizing, maddening failures with his country’s national team, including three recent Copa América finals and perhaps the most demoralizing defeat of his career — against Germany in the World Cup final — inside the same stadium, Rio’s hulking Maracanã, in 2014.
When the whistle blew to end the final on Saturday night, Messi — his relief palpable — dropped to his knees and was immediately surrounded by his teammates. Moments later, they were lifting him above their shoulders and tossing him in the air.
“I needed to remove the thorn of being able to achieve something with the national team,” Messi said after the celebrations in the dressing room, according to The Associated Press. “I had been close for other years and I knew it was going to happen. I am grateful to God for giving me this moment, against Brazil and in Brazil. I was saving this moment for myself.”