Verratti goes from Euro 2016 nightmare to Euro 2020 final

Italy's Marco Verratti, left, takes on Spain's Mikel Oyarzabal during the Euro 2020 semifinal between Italy and Spain at Wembley stadium in London, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (Laurence Griffiths, Pool via AP)

LONDON — When Marco Verratti pulled up in training in May, he thought his European Championship was over before it had even started. Again.

The hard-working Italy midfielder had missed Euro 2016 because of a groin problem that needed surgery. And when he injured his right knee in training with Paris Saint-Germain on May 8, about a month before the start of Euro 2020, the 28-year-old Verratti was understandably worried.

"Certainly after the injury, three or four days later, I thought I wouldn't make it,'' Verratti said Thursday, two days after Italy reached the Euro 2020 final to set up a match against England. "It was a serious injury, the nightmares of 2016 came back.

"But with hard work, thanks to the medical staff of PSG and the national team, I managed to come back and I managed to come back in great condition. I managed to play four matches without pain. I'm really happy because it was hard to be out.''

Verratti missed the opening two matches of this year's tournament. His replacement, Manuel Locatelli, scored two goals against Switzerland in Italy's second match.

Verratti was brought back for the final group game against Wales and immediately played his way back into the starting lineup.

Not only did he set up the only goal for Matteo Pessina with a free kick which he won, but Verratti was everywhere on the field, completing 94% of his 113 passes — 30 more than any player that day — and racking up more than 10 kilometers.

Verratti was also the most prolific passer on the field in the 2-1 victory over Austria in the round of 16. The Italy midfield was, however, outplayed in the semifinals against Spain, but the team still managed to advance by winning a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw.

Verratti is fourth overall in UEFA's list of most in-form players of the tournament, ranked using a specially devised algorithm.

He and the rest of the Italy midfield will again be key in Sunday's final at Wembley Stadium against England.

"This match and the one against Spain are two very different games,'' Verratti said. "Here it could be the area where we can and must make the difference. We have to create the rhythm, we need to have a great match.

"But it's a final. Every detail could make the difference, whether its in midfield, defense or attack.''

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