Italy face Austria in the last 16 of Euro 2020 tonight in the first game of the knockout stages. The winner will play either Belgium or Portugal in next weekend’s quarter-finals. The Italians cruised through to the knockout stages with three wins out of three, beating Turkey, Switzerland and Wales without conceding a single goal.
On the other hand, Austria had a fairly smooth passage too with two wins qualifying second behind Netherlands in Group C.
The match will be played at Wembley Stadium in London, and the choice of tonight’s referee has already sparked some tensions.
One of Italy’s major sports newspapers, Corriere dello Sport, has brutally criticised the decision to appoint English official Anthony Taylor.
It claims Taylor will want Italy to lose after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi asked for the Euro 2020 final to be moved from London to Rome amid concerns about the coronavirus Delta variant spreading in the UK.
The article’s headline reads: ‘Beware, the referee is English!’
The piece continues: “It is clear that as sportsmen we have a duty to believe that, even in football-business, the highest values prevail and that revenge and jokes are not part of the practices of those who govern football.
“However, when we read yesterday morning that the Englishman Anthony Taylor had been designated for the match with Austria, a shiver ran down the back of several insiders and some non-neutral observer of the Italian national team.
“Simple coincidence? Pure randomness?”
Despite the criticism, Taylor has been widely praised for how he handled Christian Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in the opening week of the tournament.
As a result he was appointed to referee the Portugal vs Germany contest.
Mr Draghi made the audacious bid to take the final of Euro 2020 away from England last week.
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Asked during a news conference in Berlin if he was in favor of moving the final to Rome, Mr Draghi said: “Yes … I will work to make it happen in a country where new coronavirus infections are not on the rise.”
Mr Draghi, an AS Roma supporter, made the comments during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel where they both claimed football was the only thing that divided them.
Asked about moving the final, Mrs Merkel did not call for it to be shifted from London, but issued a warning to UEFA.
She said: “The UK is a virus variant area, which means we will impose a 14-day quarantine on anyone who travels back from the UK.
“There are very few exceptions to that.
“And I hope that UEFA will handle this responsibly, and I wouldn’t think it would be a good thing if there were full stadiums there.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock tried to shoot down any attempts to move the final earlier this week.
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He said: “I think these Euros are going very well and the final is set to be at Wembley.
“We’ve got a great setup.”
When asked about Mr Draghi’s comments, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “That’s a matter for the Italian Prime Minister.
“We’re looking forward to hosting a fantastic semi-final and final at Wembley, and will do so safely and securely.”