How could you, Ursula? ‘Anglophile’ von der Leyen backs Italy to win Euro 2020 final

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Ursula von der Leyen - CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images
Ursula von der Leyen - CHRISTIAN HARTMANN/AFP/Getty Images

Ursula von der Leyen will support Italy against England in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday, it was announced on Friday, amid bubbling Brexit tension between Britain and Brussels.

The European Commission president, who is German, will be backing Roberto Mancini’s men against Gareth Southgate’s side.

Her spokesman said in Brussels: "Her heart is with the squadra Azzurra. So she will be supporting Italy on Sunday."

Italy is a founding member of the European Union, while England voted overwhelmingly for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. If that wasn’t enough for Mrs von der Leyen to don the famous blue shirt of the Italian gladiators on Sunday night, England knocked Germany out of the tournament.

Despite Brexit and her support for Italy, Mrs von der Leyen professes to be an anglophile after spending time as a student in London.

Her footballing loyalties were exposed at a time when UK-EU relations are at their lowest. Since Brexit took legal effect at the end of last year, the UK and EU have clashed over Northern Ireland, fishing rights, vaccines and even teetered on the brink of a sausage trade war.

There are fears in Brussels - where any football victory in a final by an EU member state is celebrated as a triumph for the European project - that an England win would be claimed as a vindication for Brexit.

It has not escaped notice in the Belgian capital that the last time England won a major tournament - the World Cup in 1966 - it was not a member of the predecessor to the EU.

Margaritis Schinas, the European Commissioner for promoting the European way of life, tweeted on Friday in Italian: "I support Italy. Forza Azzurri."

Mr Schinas has form. He told the European Parliament that "personally" he could not see the sense of Wembley hosting the semi-finals and finals when the Delta variant was surging in the UK.

The European Commission claimed victory for the EU in the 2018 World Cup when four of its member states, including England before Brexit, reached the semi-finals.

"Football is staying home in the European Union," Mr Schinas said at the time.

Italy football - Carl Recine/Getty Images
Italy football - Carl Recine/Getty Images

Martin Selmayr, the then European Commission secretary-general nicknamed "the monster", couldn’t resist putting the boot into England in 2018.

As the Three Lions were defeated by Croatia in extra time during the World Cup semi-final, he tweeted a series of football and EU flag emojis.

Some wags on social media suggested that Mrs von der Leyen’s support for the Italians could backfire due to her reputation for mishaps, which was cemented by her mishandling of the vaccination drive.

"An Azzurri Loss Now All But Guaranteed," tweeted Le Chou, an account taking a satirical look at EU politics.

But other Brussels-based social media accounts shared maps of Europe showing which countries were supporting which team in the final.

England alone is shown as supporting England in the banter-filled posts, with all EU member states and the other home nations backing Italy to win.

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