3 key tactical questions: England v. Italy, EURO 2020 final

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The phrase “tactical chess match” is sure to be thrown around plenty before, during and after England and Italy face off in the EURO 2020 final at Wembley Stadium on Sunday (3 pm ET), and rightly so given their hugely differing styles of play

[ MORE: EURO 2020 final preview: England v. Italy ]

As we previously discussed here on PST, Gareth Southgate’s England looks a bit more like your grandfather’s Italy — safe and defensively sound — while Roberto Mancini’s Italy plays with (some of) the reckless abandon we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from club sides in recent years.

See? The final really is set up to be a fascinating tactical battle between the two best sides at EURO 2020, so let’s dive right into it.

First things first…

Will Southgate or Mancini make any changes?

Short answer: No, probably not.

Longer answer, in the form of a question: Why should they?

Not only have the current formulas gotten each side to the final, but they have remained largely unchanged throughout EURO 2020. Both sides rotated a handful of players during the group stage, but six Italian players have started at least five of the six games thus far and a whopping eight have done so for England (six have started every game).

The key change to either side is, of course, the absence of breakout star Leonardo Spinazzola after he tore his achilles in the quarterfinals, forcing backup left back Emerson into the lineup for the semifinal. Emerson performed admirably in his 74 minutes against Spain — well enough he isn’t likely to lose his place, at least — though drop-off of attacking threat between the two was admittedly noticeable. That’s more a credit to Spinazzola than a criticism of Emerson.

Fatigue is undoubtedly a worry for both sides after the condensed European club season just completed, with players having very brief breaks (one week or less in most cases) before reporting to national team camp.


Can Kane pull Chiellini and Bonucci into midfield?

Is it too much of an oversimplification to say that Harry Kane’s ability to pull Giorgio Chiellini or Leonardo Bonucci out of their rigid shape and into the midfield, thus opening up massive gaps which the other simply cannot defend alone, will decide the game? Yes, but it’s the no. 1 tactical battle to watch when England are in possession.

Italy’s legendary center back duo, with 219 caps between them, has been through anything and everything an opposing center forward could possibly throw at them, but few no. 9s in the history of the game have had the ability to affect the game in as many ways as Kane can do, and has done this year. He’s undeniably lethal as a marksman when he gets a sight of goal and a half-yard of space to shoot, but he’s arguably even more effective when he drops into the midfield and slots through balls like the classic no. 10s of yesteryear — as he did to set up England’s equalizer in the semifinal.

[ MORE: Football’s Coming Home? England, at home, one win away ]

While it’s tempting to send a center back with him, almost on a man-marking assignment, doing so creates the kind of space between defenders in which the likes of Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford can receive the ball and immediately became goal-dangerous. With two touches, Kane can send any side in the world into all-out emergency defense mode.

To avoid being pulled apart, some teams choose to assign the defensive midfielder to effectively shadow Kane around the field to deny him the ball and limit his touches. That works quite well, if you have a combative, ball-winner playing the no. 6. Italy, unfortunately for them, have Jorginho, who’s a truly excellent footballer not known much of anything in defense. It’s a job that someone has to do, and there’s hardly an obvious choice in the squad. Expect Kane to be active, and effective.


Can Italy create scoring chances without Spinazzola?

Again, not to oversimplify things, but the center forward versus center backs matchup at the other end of the field will be key with Italy in possession, with a major knock-on effect for their midfield and full backs. And again, it’s another big advantage to England.

EURO 2020 finalHere’s a look at Italy’s heatmaps before and after the injury to Spinazzola, showing just how much their build-play was dependent on him when he was in the team (top, against Belgium, quarterfinal), and how desperate their possession became without him (bottom, against Spain, semifinal). (Note the arrows atop each heatmap, indicating the direction in which Italy attacked.)

[ MORE: Italy, Mancini push boundaries to reach EURO 2020 final ]

Basically, Ciro Immobile, who has started five of the six games for Italy, went from having three and four of his fellow attacking players surrounding him at all times, to being stranded on a deserted island against a pair of center backs and the defensive midfielder. The overlapping runs on the left (the large red circle on the top heatmap) were suddenly nonexistent, instead replaced with virtually zero touches of the ball on either wing and even fewer underneath the Immobile (the vast nothingness surrounding two small green circles on the bottom heatmap). Immobile’s touches dropped from 40 (in 75 minutes) to 10 (in 61 minutes), including just three in Italy’s attacking third against Spain, compared to 30 just one game prior.

The obvious solution, which might cause more problems than it fixes, would be to push one or two of the central midfielders higher up the field to join the attack, or perhaps Mancini will opt for an even higher intensity press to win the ball in even more advantageous areas, but every single player along England’s spine — from Jordan Pickford in goal, to Harry Maguire and John Stones at center back, Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Mason Mount in midfield and Kane up top — are supremely comfortable playing with the ball at their feet. Perhaps not to the same degree as they did against Spain, but Italy will struggle to turn England over.

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Serbia vs Switzerland: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Serbia and Switzerland seek a win that could seal a place in the World Cup Round of 16 when they meet Friday in Doha.

The Swiss can qualify with a win, or a draw if Cameroon beats Brazil and tiebreakers stay in Switzerland’s favor. The Swiss beat Cameroon 1-0 in Al Wakrah but lost to Brazil by the same score in Doha.

STREAM LIVE SERBIA vs SWITZERLAND

Serbia started its tournament with a 2-0 loss to Brazil In Lusail before drawing a wild six-goal thriller with Cameroon In Al Wakrah.

Serbia qualifies with a win if Cameroon doesn’t beat Brazil. If Serbia and Cameroon both win, Serbia would need to take the lead in goal differential.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Serbia vs Switzerland.


How to watch Serbia vs Switzerland live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Friday Dec. 2
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Three different goal scorers hit the sheet in the draw with Cameroon, and Fulham star Aleksandar Mitrovic remains a threat to score every game. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic continues to show huge value in the center of the pitch.

Breel Embolo has Switzerland’s only goal and will be continue to be a focal point, while Man City defender Manuel Akanji, Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, and Nottingham Forest’s Remo Freuler make the Swiss a tough team to break down.


Serbia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 21
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Dragan Stojkovic
Key players: Aleksandar Mitrovic, Luka Jovic, Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, Dusan Tadic

Switzerland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 15
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Murat Yakin
Key players: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler

Cameroon vs Brazil: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Cameroon needs to upset qualified Brazil and get help from the other Group G game when the World Cup group stage hits Lusail on Friday.

The Indomitable Lions lost 1-0 to Switzerland before drawing Serbia 3-3 In a thrilling second encounter.

STREAM LIVE CAMEROON vs BRAZIL

Beating tournament favorites Brazil is a big ask but it will be a heavily-rotated and Neymar-less Selecao who faces Cameroon. Brazil blanked Serbia 2-0 in Lusail before beating Switzerland 1-0 in Doha.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Cameroon vs Brazil.


How to watch Cameroon vs Brazil live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Friday Dec. 2
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Cameroon defender Jean-Charles Castelletto has joined forwards Vincent Aboubakar and underappreciated Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting in becoming one of the stories of Group G.

Brazil still needs to find its answer if Neymar cannot return to the fold this tournament. Richarlison and Raphinha have impressed but still need to show they can really carry the attack without Neymar. Could Gabriel Jesus shine in his absence?


Cameroon quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 43
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from CAF playoffs
Coach: Rigobert Song
Key players: Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, Vincent Aboubakar, Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting

Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

Mexico fall short of miraculous escape in win over Saudi Arabia

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Mexico scored the first goals and picked up their first win at the 2022 World Cup on Wednesday, beating Saudi Arabia 2-1 to close out play in Group C, but the margin of victory wasn’t large enough to advance to the knockout rounds.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY

Instead, Poland (4 points) will join Argentina (6) in the round of 16 by way of their superior goal difference (0 to -1) to Mexico (4 points). For nearly 45 minutes, the tiebreaker in question was fair play points (yellow and red cards) with the sides matching one another identically at this World Cup.

After failing to score a goal in either of their first two games, Mexico needed an offensive explosion on Wednesday, and to some degree they got one. Their 2.10 expected goals were more than double their outputs from games no. 1 (0.72 vs Poland) and 2 (0.27 vs Argentina), combined.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Henry Martin got Mexico on the board just two minutes after halftime, turning home Cesar Montes’ flick of a corner kick at the near post. Five minutes later, it was 2-0 after Luis Chavez smashed a dipping free kick home from 32 yards out.

As Mexico pushed more and more numbers forward in pursuit of the third goal that would send them through to the knockout rounds for an 8th straight World Cup appearance, El Tri were hit on the counter-attack. Salem Al Dawsari’s stoppage-time consolation goal was the final, decisive blow.

[ MORE: Latest Group C standings, schedule, scores ]

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How to watch Saudi Arabia vs Mexico live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Wednesday Nov. 30
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The Saudis have arguably been the most fun team at the tournament amongst non-powers, always running and getting exceptional goalkeeping. Salem Al-Dawsari was very good in both games but his missed penalty before halftime against Poland looms large of a match that could’ve been 1-1 going to the break and instead ended 2-0.

Mexico has not scored at the tournament so far, and Raul Jimenez has only been used as a super sub. Hirving Lozano and Alexis Vega combined for just three shot attempts before being subbed out of the Poland loss, while Lozano and Henry Martin combined for two versus Poland (Vega attempted five). They need better up top to keep up their streak of making Round of 16 appearances at the World Cup.


Saudi Arabia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 51
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC (Won Group B)
Coach: Herve Renard
Key players: Salem Al-Dawsari, Fahad Al-Muwallad, Mohammed Al-Owais

Mexico quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 13
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (2nd place)
Coach: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino
Key players: Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez

World Cup tables – Group stage standings in full

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The World Cup tables are shaping up to be very intriguing viewing as the group stage unfolds in Qatar.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock ]

With teams now scrambling to be in the top two in order to reach the last 16, goal difference will make a big difference and it is going to be very tight and tense over the next few days.

If you need a reminder on the tiebreakers for the group stage, here is everything which will help you work out the two teams who will make it through and the two who will go home from reach group.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Below are the World Cup tables from all eight groups, as fans across the globe will be glue to these standings as they try to figure out the permutations needed for their team to make it through.


Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H

Group A table

1.  Netherlands — 7 points (+4 GD) – IN THE LAST 16 
2. Senegal — 6 points (+1) – IN THE LAST 16
3. Ecuador — 4 points (+1) – ELIMINATED
4. Qatar — 0 (-6) – ELIMINATED

Matches played

Recap/highlights: Qatar 0-2 Ecuador – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Senegal 0-2 Netherlands – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Qatar 1-3 Senegal – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 2-0 Qatar – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Ecuador 1-2 Senegal –  Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan


Group B table

1. England – 7 points (+7 GD) – IN THE LAST 16
2. USA – 5 points (+1) – IN THE LAST 16
3. Iran – 3 points (-3) – ELIMINATED
4. Wales – 1 point (-5) – ELIMINATED

Matches played

Recap/highlights: England 6-2 Iran – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: USA 1-1 Wales – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: England 0-0 USA – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Wales 0-2 Iran – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Wales 0-3 England – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Iran 0-1 USA – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor


Group C table

1. Argentina — 6 points (+3) – IN THE LAST 16
2. Poland — 4 points (0) – IN THE LAST 16
3. Mexico — 4 points (-1) – ELIMINATED
4. Saudi Arabia — 3 points (-2) – ELIMINATED

Matches played

Recap/highlights: Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Mexico 0-0 Poland – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Poland 2-0 Saudi Arabia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Argentina 2-0 Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Poland 0-2 Argentina – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Saudi Arabia 1-2 Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail


Group D table

1. France – 6 points (+3 GD) – IN THE LAST 16
2. Australia – 6 points (-1) – IN THE LAST 16
3. Tunisia – 4 points (+1) – ELIMINATED
4. Denmark – 1 point (-2) – ELIMINATED

Matches played

Recap/highlights: France 4-1 Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: France 2-1 Denmark – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Tunisia 0-1 Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Tunisia 1-0 France –  Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Australia 1-0 Denmark – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah


Group E table

1. Spain — 4 points (+6 GD)
2. Japan — 3 points (0)
3. Costa Rica — 3 points (-6)
4. Germany — 1 point (-1)

Matches played

Recap/highlights: Spain 7-0 Costa Rica – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Germany 1-2 Japan – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Spain 1-1 Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Matches remaining

Thursday, December 1: Japan vs Spain – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm
Thursday, December 1: Costa Rica vs Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Group F table

1. Croatia — 4 points (+3 GD)
2. Morocco — 4 points (+2)
3. Belgium — 3 points (+1)
4. Canada — 0 points (-4) – ELMINATED

Matches played

Recap/highlights: Belgium 1-0 Canada – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Morocco 0-0 Croatia – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Belgium 0-2 Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Croatia 4-1 Canada – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan

Matches remaining

Thursday, December 1: Croatia vs Belgium – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am
Thursday, December 1: Canada vs Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 10am


Group G table

1. Brazil — 6 points (+3 GD) – QUALIFIED
2. Switzerland — 3 points (0)
3. Cameroon — 1 point (-1)
4. Serbia — 1 point (-2)

Matches played

Recap/highlights: Brazil 2-0 Serbia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Switzerland 1-0 Cameroon – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Brazil 1-0 Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Cameroon 3-3 Serbia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah

Matches remaining

Friday, December 2: Cameroon vs Brazil – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm
Friday, December 2: Serbia vs Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm


Group H table

1. Portugal — 6 points (+3 GD) – QUALIFIED
2. Ghana — 3 points (0)
3. South Korea — 1 point (-1)
4. Uruguay — 1 point (-2)

Matches played

Recap/highlights: Portugal 3-2 Ghana – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Uruguay 0-0 South Korea – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Portugal 2-0 Uruguay– Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: South Korea 2-3 Ghana – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan

Matches remaining

Friday, December 2: South Korea vs Portugal – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am
Friday, December 2: Ghana vs Uruguay – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah – 10am