KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY —- Shootout drama fizzed and sparked yet again at Euro 2020 as Italy reached the final by overcoming great old rivals Spain 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 extra time draw at Wembley.
Dani Olmo missed one Spanish penalty and Gianluigi Donnarumma saved another from Alvaro Morata before Chelsea midfielder Jorginho sealed Azzurri victory with a cheekily delicate last kick. History was always against Spain: no team have ever won two shootouts in a single European Championship.
La Roja had only themselves to blame for even allowing the entertainment to go to extra time, let alone penalties.
They dominated all the first hour but spurned their chances and were duly punished by Federico Chiesa in a counter attack on the hour. Substitute Morata pulled them back on terms 20 minutes later as the high-speed duel raced to its climax.
Italy deserved enormous credit for the manner in which they dug in after half-time and counter-punched Spain to a standstill. Ironically, after all the attacking dynamism of their earlier performances it was by virtue of the old hit-and-hold tradition that they progressed.
At least they have one more day to rest and recuperate for Sunday’s Wembley final than rivals Denmark or England.
Spain were looking for a third European title in four events while Italy have only won it once, back in 1968.
Spanish coach Luis Enrique replaced injured Pablo Sarabia, one of his most effective forwards, with Dani Olmo and also dropped central defenders Pau Torres and centre-forward Alvaro Morata. Opposite number Roberto Mancini brought in Chelsea’s Emerson to place long-ter absentee Leonardo Spinazzola at leftback.
Spain opened with the sort of dynamism which had been Italy’s hallmark in previous matches. The Azzurri appeared taken by surprise as they found themselves on the back foot against opponents who, for the first time, had no respect for them.
Dani Olmo, playing as a false No9, found acres of space and asked all sorts of questions.
He also wasted the finest early opening after a poor clearance from goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gifted possession to Spain whose neat inter-passing opened up the Italy defence only for Olmo to shoot straight at the relieved goalkeeper.
Both Olmo and Mikel Oyarzabal flailed shots high over the bar as Spanish inter-passing repeatedly left Italy’s midfielders spinning on their heels.
For all that it was Italy who came closest to a first-half goal, almost on the interval. A long ball out of defence was collected by Lorenzo Insigne who accelerated down the left before slipping in Emerson whose shot eluded Simon’s first and clipped the bar. That was Italy’s only shot in the first half.
Italy were a different team in the second half. They tightened up in midfield and raised the tempo as the action rocketed from end to end.
Immobile and Chiesa had openings at one end, Sergi Busquets and Oyarzabal twice at the other. Italy then broke at speed for Chiesa to accelerate through the heart of defence to shoot beyond Simon.
Spain drove back downfield. Oyarzabal missed a close-range heading opportunity and Olmo shot wide from just outside the penalty box in front of goal.
Luis Enrique, in a gesture of desperation, brought on attackers Morata and Gerard Moreno to try to make up for lost chances.
Morata rewarded his coach’s renewed vote of confidence by equalising in the 80th minute after converting a reverse pass from Olmo and eluding Giorgio Chiellini to shoot low beyond Donnarumma’s right hand.
The goal also sent Spain into extra time for the third time in these finals.
Olmo saw a low angled drive well held by the diving Donnarumma in the 97th minute as Italy held on for the penalty shoot-out which ultimately propelled into the final and the opportunity to end a 53-year wait for a second European crown.
Roberto Mancini, Italy coach: “We are pleased to have given joy like this to the Italian people. We knew it would be very hard, Spain caused us plenty of trouble. We tried to score when we had the chances but we had a hard time because we didn’t have much of the ball. We wanted the final even if not many people believed us before the tournament. I congratulate Spain, they are a great team and penalties are a lottery. There are some games when you have to struggle but we deserved to be here. We knew it was going to be tough, it wasn’t easy and Spain surprised us at the beginning by deciding to play without a striker. This squad, however, is amazing. Everyone wants to win, but this group of players wanted to do something special and they just did that.”
Luis Enrique, Spain coach: “I think we deserved an ‘excellent’ if I wanted to give my players marks. I think they’ve been marvellous. I can’t criticise them, I have to praise them. It’s time for them to rest now. Morata had an adductor problem but still wanted to take the penalty and that says so much for his personality. He’s been gigantic for us in this tournament. In professional sport we all have to learn how to win and how to take defeat. That’s why I want to congratulate Italy. We’re going back to Spain safe in the knowledge that we were clearly among the best teams at this tournament.”
Federico Chiesa, Italy goalscorer: “I cannot describe my emotions in words. You know, it was a tough match. Spain were great tonight, but now we are in the final and we’re coming back here on 11 July and we’ll see. We’ll see.”
Sergio Busquets, Spain midfielder: “Everyone made Italy big favourites but we demonstrated that we were superior to them. We played with a lot of young footballers and this whole experience will have served to give them a lot of confidence. This team will be back. We imposed the things we wanted to here, owning the ball, winning it back as quickly as possible. In general across this match I think we were the dominant side. But football’s like this, and all we can do is congratulate Italy.”
Italy: Donnarumma – Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (Tolói 74) – Barella (Locatelli 85), Jorginho, Verratti (Pessina 74) – Chiesa (Bernardeschi 107), Immobile (Berardi 61), Insigne (Belotti 85) .
Spain: Unai Simón – Azpilicueta (Llorente 85), Eric García (Pau Torres 109), Laporte, Jordi Alba – Koke (Rodri 70), Sergio Busquets (Thiago 106), Pedri – Oyarzabal (Moreno 70), Olmo, Ferran Torres (Morata 62).
Referee: Brych (Ger).
Penalties (Italy first): Locatelli saved, Olmo over the bar 0-0; Belotti 1-0, Gerard Moreno 1-1; Bonucci 2-1, Thiago Alcantara 2-2; Bernardeschi 3-2, Morata saved 3-2; Jorginho 4-2.