John Stones urges you to stick to whatever you've been doing so far during this tournament, because it seems to be working

Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

Where will you watch Sunday’s European Championship final? What will you be wearing, and have you washed it? What’s the superstitious half-time snack? And does any of it really matter?

Immersion in rituals, analysis of form and poring over stats is catnip for nervous football fans. An attempt to control the uncontrollable, it helps to narrow down the emotional range before a game kicks off and the awful nerve-shredding reality of football kicks in. 

It is questionable how much of an impact these omens have on the average professional footballer.

It would be foolish to speculate what’s going on inside the mind of John Stones when he strides out at Wembley, but it is hard to imagine it’s too preoccupied with his team’s concerning record in home games that take place in July on Sundays during years that end in a one.

As supporters, though, we’ll take all the clues we can get. What follows is a guide to everything which might influence the outcome of Sunday’s game, the things you can trot out if there’s a lull in conversation or England are enjoying one of their new spells of serene ball retention and you’re losing interest. 

In an overdue tribute to superstitious undergarments we have given each category a lucky pants rating out of five. The better the score, the more likely it favours England.

Semi final order

Italy have had an extra day of rest for this final, given their semi took place on Tuesday. England’s was the day after. Instinctively you would assume the extra day of rest helps Italy but the stats suggest otherwise. Marginally. 

Since 1982, in tournaments when the semi finals have taken place at least a day apart, it’s even in the Euros. Four of the earlier semi-finalists won, four lost. In the World Cup it’s an unexpected 5-3 victory for the team playing on one day’s less rest.

Perhaps it’s a secret advantage to have less time to mull it over? Whatever the reason, it’s a thumping 9-7 victory for England here.

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Form

A frankly frightening 33 games unbeaten for Italy, the longest such run in their history. England’s equivalent is 12 without defeat. Not to be sniffed at, but only one winner here. 

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Football style

It’s all about keeping it tight at the back at summer tournaments. Both sides have done so, with England only conceding once in six games so far, that’s a rate of 0.16 per game. Their goals scored total was looking less impressive but bolstered by a 4-0 win over Ukraine. Taking extra time goals and concessions into account, it’s 10 in six, at a rate of 1.6 per game.

Perhaps a touch stingy on the goals scored column, but England slot in nicely to this graphic:

Functional football gets the job done in summer tournaments

Italy meanwhile are on 12 scored in six, two per game, but have been marginally leakier at the back. They’ve conceded in their three previous games, meaning it’s 0.5 let in per gamer so far. They’re looking like Spain 2008 in the graph above. England more like Spain 2010.

Too close to call, but there’s no such thing as two and a half pairs of lucky Y-fronts, unless your tumble dryer has gone rogue. The edge must go to the team scoring more.

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Referee

Bjorn Kuipers will do the whistling honours. He’s got a lot of money, but does he favour England and its competitive top rate of income tax? Not if the 2-1 victory for Italy in the World Cup 2014 match he officiated is any indication. That England team would have needed significantly more than a kind ref to succeed. 

Then again, he refereed the processional 2018 World Cup win over Sweden, and is the third Dutch referee England have had in four knockout games this summer. Those knockout games have gone better than many dared hope, so it’s another one where the sacred briefs are marginally on England’s side

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Penalties

England don’t like them much but it’s two from two in shootouts since 2018, one win against Colombia at the World Cup the other against Switzerland in the Nations League. Those wins put a healthier shine on their previously desperate all-time record. It’s now three wins from nine attempts. Not brilliant, but no longer a cursed voodoo hoodoo of shame.

It’s five wins from 12 attempts for Italy. Better but hardly perfect, and they carry the scars of defeat in the 1994 World Cup final. Those scars were healed by victory in their victory to beat France in the 2006 World Cup.

There has been one previous penalty shoot-out between the two, Italy winning 4-2 at Euro 2012. Stupid tournament, too many hosts, didn’t want to win it anyway. Repeat that on Sunday if it doesn’t turn out well. 

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Final appearances

This will be the 10th time Italy have been to the final of a Euros (four times) or a World Cup (six). Their record is four wins from 10. A paltry 40 per cent.

England, meanwhile are in a final for the first time since, ooh, I’m racking my brains, oh yes – it’s 1966! But guess what that means? 100 per cent record. I think you know what that means.

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Home advantage

There have been 10 previous times in history that a host nation has reached a final. Both of the last two times that’s happened the hosts have lost: France at the previous Euros and Portugal in 2004. 

But before that the host nations won the final on all but one occasion – when Brazil beat Sweden at the 1958 World Cup. Don’t fall into the trap of recency bias, history is with England here.

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Head to head record

Italy have won three and drawn one of the four previous meetings at major tournaments. The draw was the 0-0 at Euro 2012, when Andrea Pirlo ruined Joe Hart’s life in the penalty shoot-out. 

The overall record is cagey, but favours Italy. England have played them 27 times, winning eight, drawing eight and losing 11. 

Three of the last four meetings have been friendlies, in which England are unbeaten, winning once. The competitive edge when it matters is all Italy’s, though, unless you’re counting a 2-0 victory at the Tournoi de France in 1997. Which we are, and will continue to do so. 

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Wembley

It’s 15 wins from 17 for England at Wembley. The crowd will be enormously on their side. Italians have a well-known fear of arches. No contest.

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Kits

The most important category of all. 

England wore red in their only previous final triumph, you may have seen one or two of the pictures since. No red kit available for this one, the change strip which has yet to be given an outing is blue. Would be deeply weird if England went for blue and forced Italy into white. 

So it is safe to assume England will stick with their home kit and since the end of the group stage nine teams have worn white. They’ve all won. HELLO!

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Psychic animals

Some meerkats knocked over an English flag after several minutes of thoughtful deliberation. Olé!

Jennifer the psychic shark swam past the England hoop, and into the Italian one. Boo!

A dog ate a biscuit with Harry Kane’s face on it, ignoring the other option, featuring Jorginho. Ole!

A rhino was lured into an abandoned shopping centre and chose to ruin an Italian shoe shop instead of Clark’s. Boo! Olé! Not sure!

Only one of those is true, but what the hell, let’s give it to England again because when you get to the point of worrying about psychic animals it’s best to forget about the football and go for a lie down to think about nice train rides you’ve been on. 

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Overall that’s a glorious total of 34 pairs of lucky pants. Play the song: