It is going to Rome as superb Italy beat England on penalties to win Euro 2020
After a 1-1 draw in normal time, Donnarumma saved penalties from Sancho and Saka to hand the Azzurri a 3-2 shootout win and their second European Championship trophy
Italy’s 53-year wait for another European Championship, after their maiden victory in 1968, came to an end in the most dramatic fashion, a penalty shootout victory against a distraught England. An extremely early Luke Shaw goal was cancelled out midway through the second half by Leonardo Bonucci. With neither team able to find a winner, the Azzurri managed to hold their nerve in the penalty shootout.
Although Jordan Pickford saved kicks from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, the inexperience of England’s young players showed. Marcus Rashford hit the post and Gianluigi Donnarumma stopped Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, the latter save silencing a noisy Wembley crowd that had been dreaming of English victory in their first ever Euro Cup final. Roberto Mancini’s men, who had embarrassingly failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, had redeemed themselves in spectacular fashion.
The anticipation had been palpable around London in the lead up to the match. England were in a major tournament final for the first time since 1966 and were looking to end 55 years of heartbreak. The feeling that this could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity had an unfortunate effect on English fans, with hundreds of ticketless fans storming entrances and barricades in an effort to gain entry into the stadium. Spokespersons from both Wembley and UEFA were quick to release statements assuring everyone that these fans had not succeeded.
But it did not matter, as Wembley put on a raucous, frenzied atmosphere with about 50,000 English fans and small pockets of Italian fans, around 9,000 total, in full voice. The massive stadium was almost bouncing as the players took to the pitch for the culmination of a wonderful tournament.
Both England and Italy came into the final having gone unbeaten throughout the tournament. Mancini sent out the same side that had prevailed on penalties over Spain in the semifinal. Gareth Southgate, however, changed formation from 4-3-3 to the 3-4-3 that had been so effective against Germany in the round of 16. Kieran Trippier was drafted in at right-wingback, replacing Bukayo Saka, with Kyle Walker slotting in as the third centre back.
The changes looked defensive, but proved otherwise within two minutes of kick-off. The left-wingback Shaw started a counter-attack, passing infield to Harry Kane, who switched the play to Trippier on the right side. Walker’s overlapping run pulled Emerson out of position and Trippier had space to send in a cross towards the far post where Shaw, who had continued his run, was free to spank an excellent half-volley in at the near post. This was his first goal for England, and what a match to score it in. He was mobbed at the corner flag by overjoyed teammates as, all around them, Wembley exploded in celebration.
The quickest goal ever scored in a Euro Cup final had completely wrong-footed the Italians, who found themselves trailing in a game for the first time in this tournament. They soon managed to win a freekick, which Lorenzo Insigne sent high and wide, but England kept finding space down both flanks and they dominated the first 15 minutes.
Italy, however, had not come into the final on a 33-match unbeaten run for nothing. They began to slowly gain a foothold in the game, hemming their opponents back into their own half. Although the English defence dealt with the threats with calmness and ease, their forwards became more and more isolated upfront. They did manage to conjure up a chance in the 34th minute between Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling, but Bonucci intercepted well.
The Italians responded with their best spell of the match so far. Their bright spark Federico Chiesa embarked on a determined run down the inside-right, ending with a powerful low drive that flashed just wide of the right post, with Pickford well beaten had it been on target. Then, in the dying moments of the first half, came Italy’s best team move. Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s cross from the right fell to Ciro Immobile, whose goal-bound shot was crucially blocked by John Stones. Marco Verrati weakly fired the rebound straight at Pickford.
Italy continued to hog the ball in the second half. England, so calm in the first half, were starting to look jittery as the blue shirts popped the ball around and carved out opportunities. Kalvin Phillips and the excellent Declan Rice, who had stifled the Italian midfielders so far, were now being bypassed too easily.
Insigne again sent a freekick high a few minutes later, but Italy were now firmly in the ascendancy. Another burst and cross from Chiesa, aimed at Insigne, was just about intercepted by Walker. Then, in the 57th minute, the ball broke inside the England penalty area to Insigne, who wriggled free and fired from a tight angle, aiming to beat Pickford with power at his near post. The Everton keeper was equal to the task.
Pickford was called into action again in the 62nd minute. The rampaging Chiesa cut in from the left, dropped a shoulder and unleashed a low shot towards the bottom right. It took a brilliant one-handed save by Pickford to deny the Juventus winger. At the other end, a Stones header from a corner was tipped over by Donnarumma.
Italy finally got their deserved equaliser in the 68th minute. A corner from the right was flicked on by Cristante at the near post. Marco Verrati got in front of Mount at the far post and tried to head home. Pickford turned the ball onto the post, but it rebounded to Bonucci, who bundled home from close range to become the oldest player to score in a Euro Cup final.
Southgate tried to respond to the goal by bringing on Saka for Trippier and reverting to a 4-3-3, but Italy still looked the better team. A long ball down the middle by Bonucci fell to the substitute Domenico Berardi who lashed wildly over on the volley, perhaps put off by the onrushing Pickford.
As the clock ticked down, the tension in the air grew. Wembley had fallen largely silent, the nervousness palpable. Regular time ended with the wily veteran Chiellini tugging back Saka by his collar and accepting the inevitable booking with a smile.
Extra-time was a jumble of tired minds and bodies, with few real chances for both sides. Italy had the best one, an Emerson cross in the 103rd minute blocked by Pickford and rebounding just wide off a clueless Belotti. At the other end, some wonderful defending by Chiellini in the 111th minute saw him nick the ball off Sterling just in time. With penalties looming, Southgate brought off Jordan Henderson, himself a substitute, and Walker for Rashford and Sancho, a decision that would backfire horribly.
In the shootout, Berardi and Kane both converted their initial spot-kicks. Then Pickford saved a weak effort from Belotti and Harry Maguire smashed home to give England the advantage. But, after Bonucci scored, Rashford got his placement wrong, sending Donnarumma the wrong way but rolling the ball onto the base of the left-hand post.
Federico Bernardeschi then converted his penalty and the momentum swung completely, Sancho’s subsequent weak effort well saved by Donnarumma, who guessed right. Pickford gave England some hope, getting down brilliantly to push Jorginho’s penalty onto the post. But 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, who had previously never taken a penalty in his senior career, saw his shot saved by the immense Donnarumma, sending Italy into ecstasy and England into familiar agony.
It was a heartbreaking loss for England and for the thousands of fans in the stadium and around the country, made even more so by the fact that it was on penalties. Everyone thought that Southgate’s men had broken that particular curse with the shootout victory over Colombia in Russia, but ghosts of the past still remain. They also got their match tactics wrong, sitting on their early lead and allowing Italy to dominate. But once clarity returns after the emotions fade, they can take stock of a remarkable performance. Throughout Euro 2020, the Three Lions displayed a defensive solidity rarely seen in their predecessors and they have exciting young players in attack as well. Southgate has overseen dramatic improvement and the team will be looking forward to the World Cup next year.
For Italy and for Roberto Mancini, it was a case of redemption, of pride restored. After the historic failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Mancini had taken over the Italian team with a promise to make them champions again. He has put together a team with an effective mix of youth and experience, the old warhorses Chiellini and Bonucci providing solidity at the back for their young teammates to flourish upfront. The outstanding Donnarumma was adjudged Player of the Tournament and, at just 22 years old, looks set to dominate for the next decade at least. The Azzurri proved their pedigree with knockout wins over heavyweights Belgium, Spain and England en route to their second European Championship title.
After 30 days and 51 matches, that ever-present question finally has an answer. Football? It’s coming to Rome.