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England's run to the Euro 2020 final has brought joy, relief and pride to a nation that craves football success.

And if they beat Italy on Sunday night, it might even bring an extra Bank Holiday.

The stars have aligned favourably for Gareth Southgate, from playing six out of seven matches at Wembley to a kind draw and a generous penalty in the semi-final.

You also have to acknowledge that Southgate's leadership has been masterful and that Raheem Sterling has been the player of the tournament.

But Italy will be their hardest test yet – by far.

Gareth Southgate's men face an Italy side brimming with confidence in Sunday's final
(Image: REUTERS)

Whenever Roberto Mancini's side has needed to dig deep, they have found a way to get the job done – whether it was in extra time against Austria, running down the clock against Belgium or holding their nerve in the penalty shoot-out with Spain.

Lucky England? No sour grapes from a Welshman here.

They did not devise the tournament format, they did not set an unlevel playing field, they did not ask for Euro 2020 to be deferred 12 months, bringing several young players nicely to the boil where they might have been undercooked last year.

But you have to say they were never going to be eliminated from a group containing Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic when all three games were at Wembley.

When they came up against their old nemesis in the last 16, they were always favourites to beat the weakest German side for 20 years.

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On the one occasion they had to leave England's shores, the quarter-final rout of Ukraine was as routine as picking apples in an orchard.

And when they needed a stroke of fortune to come up with the winner against Denmark on Wednesday night, luck was on their side.

Let's be honest: England landed on the better side of the draw, with increasingly noisy crowds to get behind them – and they have utilised all the advantages very, very well.

You can only beat what's put in front of you, and Southgate hasn't put a foot wrong. I tipped France to win the tournament, but they got sloppy and complacent against Switzerland – and they came a cropper.

As you would expect, from a team that coasted to the title, Southgate's contingent from Manchester City have been at the heart of England's run.

Will England reign supreme in Sunday's Euro 2020 final? Have your say below.

Sterling finished the season with people questioning his right to a place in the starting XI, but his form has been so electrifying that he has become undroppable, the first name on Southgate's teamsheet.

Kyle Walker also finished the club season on a low note in the Champions League final, but he has been terrific.

And John Stones was far from certain of his England place a year ago. But since he established a double act with Ruben Dias at the heart of City's defence last season, he has never looked back.

Like Stones, Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount, Luke Shaw and Kalvin Phillips have all benefitted from the extra 12 months to stage the tournament. None of them would have been likely starters in England's team if it had gone ahead as originally scheduled.

Will they complete the journey, and end 55 years of hurt for English football?

It's too close to call – but England were relentless as they chased the winner against Denmark, and the way they kept the ball in extra-time was a far cry from the gung-ho days when they just got rid of it and turned over possession.

England can do it – and for generations who have waited to see them in a major final, it will be the sporting occasion of a lifetime.

But they may need the stars to be on their side again.

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