Thousands of raucous England fans descended Sunday on Wembley Stadium and central London, singing songs, drinking beer and savouring the atmosphere, as the football-mad country reached fever pitch ahead of its first major tournament final in over half a century.

Supporters, many draped in red and white flags, thronged the famous approach to the stadium, Wembley Way, downing pints of beer and chanting an array of England anthems long before the 9pm (Malta time) kick-off against Italy.

Cars blared their horns on the surrounding streets of northwest London, creating a cacophony of noise as the smell of fried meat from street vendors wafted through air thick with red smoke from fans’ flares.

Meanwhile supporters packed other parts of the British capital, gathering en masse in Leicester Square, to revel in one of Britain’s biggest sporting occasions in decades.

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