Footy Times

Italy into Euro 2020 final after shootout settles thriller

The Azzurri drew 1-1 with Spain in regular time of a tournament classic but Jorginho’s cool penalty set up a final against either England or Denmark.

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Afer an immense, exhausting battle between two European heavyweights, Italy prevailed over Spain in a penalty shootout to book their place in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley. Federico Chiesa’s brilliant strike was cancelled out by a late Alvaro Morata goal but, after a goalless extra-time period, Morata’s penalty was saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma. Jorginho calmly converted the deciding spot-kick to send his teammates, and Italian fans everywhere, wild.

The match was played out amidst a brilliantly noisy atmosphere in Wembley, with fears about an empty or quietly neutral stadium proving unfounded. The on-pitch play itself was of the highest technical quality, the game pulsing and throbbing like a human heart. Spain, as usual, dominated possession while Italy looked dangerous on the counter. But there was an underlying tension, a lack of composure, that translated into plenty of excitement and chances.

Coming into the match, Luis Enrique made three changes from Spain’s quarter final lineup, with Eric Garcia, Dani Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal replacing Pau Torres and Morata, both starting on the bench, and the injured Pablo Sarabia. Roberto Mancini was forced into his only change, with Emerson coming in for the marvellous Leonardo Spinazzola, whose tournament was ended by a ruptured Achilles tendon.

The less spectacular but capable Emerson created the first chance of the match 4 minutes in, shoveling a pass down the left wing that sent Nicolo Barella clear. Barella bent his shot around the onrushing Unai Simon but the ball thudded off the post, and the flag went up anyway. Then Immobile was marginally offside as Italy started brightly.

But the Spanish quickly took control of the ball and began passing and probing. Pedri fired a pass down the middle for Oyarzabal, who was free in the six-yard box but failed to control and allowed Italy to clear. Then Ferran Torres pounced on a slack Italian pass, drove down the middle and sent a low drive wide of the left post. La Furia Roja were starting to dominate.

The Azzurri didn’t lie down, however, and created a huge chance in the 21st minute. Emerson outstripped Cesar Azpilicueta down the left to get to a through pass, and reached the ball just before the goalkeeper Simon. He rolled it across to Ciro Immobile who, with the goal unguarded, failed to shoot first time, instead passing on to Lorenzo Insigne who was crowded out by Spanish defenders.

Spain continued the end-to-end pattern of the game, a cross into the Italian box breaking to Olmo, who evaded a Leonardo Bonucci challenge and shot low to his left. Donnarumma got down well to save. Then Olmo, who was beginning to worry Italy, skittered down the right towards the edge of the D, before sending a swerving shot over the bar.

But Italy again came close to scoring in the dying seconds of the first half. Insigne dribbled down the left, drawing two Spanish white shirts, before cleverly picking out Emerson with a reverse pass. From a tight angle, Emerson’s shot clipped the top of the bar and went out. And thus a tight, thrilling first half came to an end.

Spain had been marginally the better team but they weren’t comfortable. Simon, whose tendency to rush out had already nearly cost his team, shanked a clearance out for a corner under no pressure just after the interval. While the corner came to nothing, the next Italian attack saw the Spanish stopper stranded off his line as Immobile tried to chip him, but the Lazio striker saw his effort go harmlessly wide.

Spain then attacked through Dani Olmo, who skipped down the right and laid off for Sergio Busquets. The captain, who had just received the first booking of the match, creamed a first-time shot towards the top right that went just over. Italy responded with a counter, Federico Chiesa trying to catch Simon out at his near post, but the Athletic Bilbao man had it covered. Then a rising 25 yard drive from Oyarzabal was saved comfortably by Donnarumma.

The breakthrough finally came on the hour mark. After catching Jordi Alba’s cross, Donnarumma immediately sent Verratti on the counter. The PSG midfielfer drove down the left and slipped the ball infield for Immobile. Aymeric Laporte slid in to block, but the ball broke to the left of the box for Chiesa, who took a couple of touches to steady himself, before curling an unstoppable shot into the top right. Wembley erupted, the Italian fans jumping out of their seats as the players celebrated on the pitch. This was Chiesa’s second stunner here, having scored another in the round of 16 tie against Austria.

Spain should have pulled themselves level in the 65th minute. A glorious Koke ball over the Italian defence fell towards Oyarzabal, unmarked in the box. But he failed to make any contact with the ball and watched in dismay as it bounced harmlessly wide, a golden opportunity wasted. Then it was Olmo’s turn to fire a powerful low drive inches wide.

All that was forgotten in the 80th minute. Morata, who had replaced the quiet Torres at the break, had also been anonymous so far. But he found a moment of clarity, cutting thorugh the blue-shirted defence with a crisp one-two with Olmo and sidefooting confidently into the bottom left. This was a slice of redemption for the striker, whose misses throughout the tournament had attracted a lot of criticism.

The equaliser re-energised Enrique’s men, with Busquets and Moreno going close. Italy looked rattled but desperately clung on for extra-time. Again Spain came at them, with the excellent Olmo sending in a freekick that evaded everyone and nearly crept in at the right post. Donnarumma saved and, after some pinball in the box, the ball clanked off Busquets and rolled inches wide of the left post.

In the 110th minute, Berardi stuck the ball into the net but was pulled back for offside. By this point, the players were exhausted. Italy sat deep while Spain passed it about, too tired to attack, as the match meandered into a shootout.

With the first kick, Manuel Locatelli hit a poor effort towards the bottom left that was easily saved by Simon. But Spain’s Dani Olmo, the best player of the match, failed to take advantage, skying his shot high over the bar. Andrea Belotti and Bonucci both scored, and they were matched by Alberto Moreno and Thiago for Spain. Federico Bernardeschi then put Italy 3-2 up with a gorgeous penalty but Morata, who had equalised for Spain, saw his low shot saved by Donnarumma. Up stepped Jorginho who, with his trademark hop and skip, sent Simon the wrong way and rolled calmly into the bottom right to win it.

Spain had suffered their first ever defeat in a major tournament semi-final. While La Roja could be considered the better team on the night, they were punished here for their wastefulness in front of goal, having 16 shots to Italy’s 7, but only one more on target than their opponents. But once the sadness has passed, there will be real pride for Luis Enrique and his team, with not many people expecting them to get so far.

The night, however, belonged to Italy. The Azzurri have extended their record for longest winning run at the Euros, this being their 16th victory in a row. Chiesa scored the goal of the game and the Italian defence held firm in typical fashion. Their approach has changed over the tournament, becoming more defensive and harder to break down, and the four-time world champions will relish the opportunity to add to their only European Championship, which came in 1968. Now, like us, they wait to see who they will face in the final: the English or the Danes.

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