Italy are the new European champions! After an innitial 1-1 and a dramatic penalty shootout, the trophy is indeed coming home to the two-time winners in blue. Tears on both ends and a burst of emotions marked a fantastic ending of a tournament that we had to wait a year longer.
It took a while for the Azzurri to repeat the success of 1968 against Yugoslavia and the players of the legendary Rajko Mitić. None of Mancini’s champions were even born during Italy’s first successful campaign, while the country of their vice-champions no longer exists. However, it all came together tonight in the most beautiful of ways.
A sequence of 34 games without a defeat was crowned with the coveted European title!
Italy’s race towards the crown
Tonight’s final held at Wembley had immense buildup. The pressure was on England to “bring home” a trophy they have in fact never won. The expectations were augmented by the fact they were playing against Italy on home grounds. The most sacred of all within English football.
The energy of the English fans created additional motive for the players of Gareth Southgate to leave a good impression. Which is exactly what they did with an early goal. Italy got blitzed after only two minutes by an unusual suspect – Luke Shaw.
Unable to recover in the next half an hour, showing only a slow return towards a stronger momentum, the Italian side was picking up the pace at the start of the second half. Building a more aggressive offensive, the Italians were spending more time on the English side and it payed off. Leonardo Bonnucci silenced the masses at Wembley with an absolute stunner as the 67th minute was going.
Meanwhile, a random pitch invader was outrunning three stewards for a good minute before he was apprehended. The norm for any major competition. Box, checked. However, the currently unnamed runner could give playing American football an honest try.
The 1-1 was maintained even after the 90th minute, with 6 minutes of stoppage time. The atmosphere was tense and not a third goal in sight. Italy made a strong attempt in the 95th minute, but no luck. The ball flew past the exterior of the left goal post. Despite the match getting into extra time, Italy was clearly showing a stronger level during the second half. England simply seemed… Lost. Meanwhile, bars all around Europe were packed. Mostly filled with fans rooting for Italy after their team lost a spot at the Euros.
The following 20 minutes offered very little viewing pleasure. England had parked the bus and the notion of penalties was looming. Things were about to become very serious. Italy started off with a calm, routine penalty, followed by the English scoring their own. All eyes were on Pickford and Donnarumma. Italy missed their second kick, while England got to the lead through Maguire.
Bonucci brought the strength back to the Azzurri with a solid execution, while Rashford’s complete miss of the goal brought the situation to an equaliser. Followed by a score from Bernardeschi that made the Italian fans jump from their seats.
Sancho proceeded to miss and Italy had two penalties up! Italy had a pure match point that Pickfrod managed to neutralise! One more to go, as the world was questioning Southgate’s bizarre penalty lineup. Donnarumma stopped the kick from Saka! The Azzuri became the new European champions!
Mancini’s Italia brought joy to a nation devastated by the pandemic. Unfortunately, this trophy won’t bring back the dead nor will it erase the past year, but it will help a nation heal. Everything about the way Italians perceive football is special. From the way they sing the National anthem, to the emotions the game can bring. It’s theatre, it’s drama, it’s Italia. Finally, they are the new rulers of Europe! The trophy is truly coming home.