Raheem Sterling in profile
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The 26-year-old has emerged as England’s standout player during Euro 2020, scoring four goals as the Three Lions secured their first final appearance at a major tournament since 1966. Sterling, who plays his club football for Manchester City, is expected to be key for England in their bid to win the European Championship, but will face fierce opponents Italy in tonight’s final. Italy are currently on a 33-game unbeaten run, a series of results built on their incredible defensive pairing of Juventus’ Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.
And for Sterling, coming face-to-face with Bonucci could hold even more importance after he once criticised the defender for remarks he made in a post-match interview.
Sterling has been steadfast in his wish for football to rid racist abuse from all aspects of the game, including on social media and in stadiums.
Reflecting on his own experiences of enduring abuse, Sterling’s efforts have earned him plaudits from across the globe, with many championing the attacker’s beliefs.
But Bonucci once felt Sterling’s fury after he suggested his then-Juventus teammate Moise Kean was partly to blame for racist abuse he suffered during a 2019 topflight match against Cagliari.
Kean was among the goalscorers as Juventus beat their Serie A opponents, and celebrated by holding his arms out in front of the Calgliari fans.
His actions were as a result of being targeted by the set of supporters, who jeered and whistled at him through the game.
Yet, in a surprise move, Bonucci criticised Kean for his decision to celebrate in the way he did.
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Speaking after the match to Sky Sport Italia, Bonucci said: “You celebrate goals with your team-mates.
“He could have done it differently. I think the blame is 50-50.
“Moise should not have done that and the Curva [fans] should not have reacted in that way.”
The remarks were widely criticised, including by Sterling, who took to Instagram to send a message to Bonucci, which said: “All you can do now is laugh.”
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Cagliari captain Luca Ceppitelli attempted to stop the chants during the game, by going over to the supporters to plead with them.
The game itself was temporarily halted, and a warning about abuse given to the crowd over the PA system.
Ahead of tonight’s match, the comments resurfaced, sparking anger among many Italian and English football fans.
One wrote: “Most of all I want England to win, but after that I really want Bonucci to lose.”
A second said: “Sterling to dribble past him and score the winner in the 90th.”
While a third added: “Lot of Italy fans hate Bonucci. This the main reason (but there are others..).
“He proved to everyone he’s not a leader. I’m disgusted whenever he’s captain…”
England vs Italy airs tonight from 6.30pm on both ITV and the BBC.
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