KEIR RADNEDGE at WEMBLEY—- Of course it had to be penalties as Italy burst England’s party bubble in a shootout after a frenetic UEFA Euro 2020 final at Wembley. No arguments. Italy deserved what was for England one final, bitter twist of fate.
The hosts had rocketed off to a perfect start with a second-minute goal from Luke Shaw but Italy forged a determined path back into the game and deserved a 67th-minute equaliser from Leonardo Bonucci.
More than that, the Azzurri could count themselves unfortunate not to have emerged after ‘only’ 90 minutes as champions for the second time since their 1968 success when they, too, were hosts.
Victory was owed above all to the creative skills of the likes of Federico Chiesa and Marco Verratti plus the defensive solidity of Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and shootout hero-keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma above all.
Marcus Rashford missed one penalty but Donnarumma’s subsequent saves from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka then proved fatal in the 3-2 denouement.
The Italian players raced from halfway to swamp the giant Donnarumma in delight then galloped back down to their own fans at the other end of Wembley to the tones of Notti Magiche, their 1990 World Cup hosting song.
England can take consolation from reaching the European final for the first time before the penalties curse struck yet again.
In the aftermath scrutiny will fall on manager Gareth Southgate’s decision to bring on the ‘cold’ Rashford and Sancho in the last minute of extra time . . . especially for the shootout.
The tournament calendar had afforded England one day fewer to rest, recuperate and press the restart button for the national team’s first major final since the 1966 World Cup victory over West Germany.
But in the end it was not fatigue but superior skill and will which brought Italy through.
England made a sensational scoring by opening the scoring inside two minutes with Luke Shaw stealing in on the left to shoot between Donnarumma and the keeper’s right-hand post. Shaw thus became not only the first England player to score in a final in 55 years but the first non-West Ham player to do so.
Italy had been lulled into complacency in their group by teams who respectfully stood back and let them run the game.
Spain had not been frightened of them in the semi-final and Italy had not learned the lesson. England’s initial press made Italy appear, as against Spain, extremely uncomfortable.
Harry Kane’s meanderings were a problem for old-stagers Bonucci and Chiellini and Italy did not raise a shot until almost the halfhour. Even then Lorenzo Insigne’s 25-yard was low, wide and harmless.
England, perhaps dispirited at creating no further openings, subsided and Italy began to press forward. Chiesa burst away from Declan Rice and fired narrowly wide of Jordan Pickford’s left-hand post though further raids before the interval foundered on England’s fast-covering defence.
Bonucci, frustrated, reacted by thumping high and wide from 35 yards in first-half stoppage time to the anger of both his team-mates and coach Roberto Mancini.
One minute into the second half Barella collected the first yellow card of the final for bringing down Kane then Raheem Sterling claimed a penalty in vain after falling under a challenge from Bonucci. Play then flew back down to he other end where Insigne curled a free kick wide from a promising position in front of goal.
Italy were now playing their best, holding possession and seeking to interchange their way through the heart of the England defence. The increasingly dangerous Insigne sneaked in n the left and his cross-shot was pushed away by Pickford.
This should have served as e warning for England but the midfield into which Mason Mount had virtually disappeared was unable to offer any sort of service or support for the increasingly isolated Kane and Sterling.
By comparison Chiesa cut in from the left and shot low for the corner only for Pickford to reach down a hand and come to the rescue.
One England break saw a John Stones header from a corner tipped over the bar by Donnarumma but such threats were few and far between.
The writing was on the Wembley wall. Harry Maguire headed over his own bar to concede a corner and Bonucci duly forced the ball home after Verratti’s header was pushed against the post by Pickford. This was the veteran defender’s eighth goal for his country.
In extra time, at last, England raised one last gallop at the instigation of another substitute in Jack Grealish but again Italy created the greater danger with a Federico Bernardeschi free kick which Pickford saved only at second attempt.
In the last minute of extra time Southgate sent on Rashford and Sancho for the shootout . . . and the die was cast.
Roberto Mancini, Italy coach: “The guys were amazing. I have no words for them; this is a wonderful squad. This game was always going to be difficult, and after their early goal even more so but we dominated from then on. You have to have a little luck on penalties and I’m a little sorry for England because they also played a great tournament.”
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Italy goalkeeper: “We have done something extraordinary. We are delighted. We didn’t give them an inch. You all know where we started. We are a fantastic team and we deserve this.”
Gareth Southgate, England coach: “We are hugely disappointed. I think the players have been an absolute credit, they have given everything they possibly could. Tonight was exactly the same, they have run themselves into the ground.”
Harry Kane, England captain: “The boys couldn’t have given more. Penalties are the worst feeling in the world when you lose. It’s been a fantastic tournament – we should be proud, hold our heads up high. It’s going to hurt now, it’s going to hurt for a while.”
Italy: Donnarumma – Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (Florenzi 118) – Barella (Cristante 54), Jorginho, Verratti (Locatelli 96) – Chiesa (Bernardeschi 86), Immobile (Berardi 55), Insigne (Belotti 91).
England: Pickford – Walker (Sancho 120), Stones, Maguire – Trippier (Saka 70), Rice (Henderson 74; Rashford 120), Phillips, Shaw – Mount (Grealish 99), Sterling – Kane.
Att: 67,173. Referee: Kuipers (Net).
Penalties (Italy first): Berardi 1-0, Kane 1-1; Belotti savsd 1-1, Maguire 1-2; Bonucci 2-2, Rashford missed 2-2; Bernardeschi 3-2, Sancho saved 3-2; Jorginho saved 3-2, Saka saved 3-2.