The Azzurri conquer Wembley: Italy beat England on penalties to become European Champions!After Shaw's early goal, Bonucci scored in the second half to make it 1-1. Then Donnarumma saved Sancho and Saka’s penalties to give Italy their second continental title
Monday, July 12, 2021
It's a Magic Night at Wembley! Fifty-three years after our only previous European Championship success in 1968, the national team have returned to Europe’s summit and have done so in style, beating England at their home stadium after a final filled with emotions and that was decided on penalties thanks to the great saves of an extraordinary Gigio Donnarumma. The President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella rejoiced in the stands, as did the almost ten thousand Azzurri fans at Wembley and the millions of Italians who followed the final on big screens or on their TV sets. After an opening shock, with Shaw scoring a goal after just two minutes, Italy grew in the second half, finding a deserved equaliser through Bonucci. Then it was down to Donnarumma who saved the penalties of Sancho and Saka to send us all into jubilation.
This is the coming true of a dream that began within the friendly walls of Stadio Olimpico with the three group wins against Turkey, Switzerland, and Wales, before continuing with the hard-fought victory in the Round of 16 against Austria and the excellent scalps of Belgium and Spain. Italy’s journey over the last month, however, began long ago, when Roberto Mancini took the reins of the national team and decided that the Italian Renaissance should stem from the beauty of the football rather than from the results. The ten straight wins in the qualifiers, qualification for the Nations League Final Four, and the memorable journey through this continental tournament are a direct consequence of that seemingly utopian choice. But the trophy raised tonight at Wembley is real. It is very, very real! On 11 July 1982, Italy won their third World Cup in Madrid, and now on 11 July 2021, they celebrate their second ever European title. A date that should become a national holiday. Also, the team’s run of unbeaten matches now stretches to 34, but tonight that matters little.
MATCH REPORT. A winning team is not one that needs changing, especially when that team has reached a final. And so, Mancini sent out the same eleven that played against Spain, with Bonucci and Chiellini in the middle of defence ahead of Donnarumma, and Di Lorenzo and Emerson occupying the full-back positions. Barella was called upon to ensure his usual dynamism and quality of passing in midfield, while Verratti and Jorginho shared responsibilities in the team’s engine room. Chiesa and Insigne possessed the ideal characteristics to put Stones and the cumbersome Maguire in trouble, and they lined up in the attacking trident alongside Immobile who, after scoring two goals in the first two games, wanted to break his drought by scoring the most important goal of his career.
In a change from their semi-final win against Denmark, Southgate decided to cover himself by focusing on a three-man defence and selecting full-back, Trippier, in place of the winger Saka from the first minute. An understandable move for a team that reached the final thanks mostly to their defensive solidity, conceding just one goal in six games with an average of 0.66% expected goals. This was also thanks to the covering work by Philips and Rice and the speed of the City full-back Walker who was often Pickford's first point of distribution. England are used to being able to count on two formidable strikers in Sterling and Harry Kane, with Southgate having the luxury of leaving various players like Grealish, Sancho, and Rashford on the bench. With Foden’s injury, it was less certain, but he perhaps would not have started in any case.
The whistles of the English fans during Mameli's Anthem immediately made it clear that it wouldn’t be an easy evening and in the second minute that fact was confirmed with Shaw's goal: Kane released Trippier down the right wing, whose cross to the far post met the onrushing Manchester United full-back forgotten by the Azzurri defence, who finished the move he had started and beat Donnarumma. Wembley exploded in a roar, and for the first time in this European Championship, Italy were forced to chase the game. It was played in a frenzy, and every time Kane dropped back to receive the ball he always found the right avenue to feed the runs of Trippier and Shaw. Mancini tried to get Italy up and running again after England’s vehement start left the team looking slightly intimidated. As the minutes ticked by, the Azzurri gained a foothold in possession, but never managed to enter the opposition penalty area. At 35 minutes, the first real threat to Pickford's goal came from a good piece of initiative by Chiesa, who advanced from the halfway line to the edge of the box and fizzed in a low shot that scraped the post. It would be the only flashpoint of the first half, too little to worry England.
The second half began with a foray into the area by Sterling, who fell to the ground in front of Donnarumma after being touched by Bonucci, but Kuipers signalled for him to get up. A shake-up was needed and Mancini, in an effort to bring more physicality to the midfield and at the same time a greater unpredictability to the offensive trident, decided to bring on Cristante and Berardi for Barella and Immobile, with Insigne lining up as a false nine. From one of several good runs by Chiesa, the ball came to Insigne who tested Pickford's responsiveness. Chiesa proved a key figure yet again for the Azzurri, and after a slaloming run into the area he shot towards the bottom corner to the left of Pickford, who did well to reach it and thwart the threat. It proved to be the prologue to the equaliser that finally came in the 67th minute: Berardi's corner, Cristante's flick-on, another miraculous save from Pickford who tipped Verratti's header onto the post, but he could do nothing about Bonucci's tap-in. One by one, Italy were still alive. Southgate sent on Saka in place of Trippier and Henderson in place of Rice, but it was the Azzurri who looked more likely to make it 2-1, with Berardi meeting Bonucci's illuminating long ball with perfect timing but kicked high and over. Italy wouldn’t let up, they could sense that their opponents were on the ropes, and they went hunting for the winning goal. Chiesa, who was victim to a heavy tackle, was forced to leave the pitch and Bernardeschi entered in his place, slotting into the false nine position with Insigne and Berardi going out to the wings. Six minutes of injury time wasn’t enough for either team to find a winner.
The game went to extra time, the third time this tournament for Italy after the Round of 16 fixture with Austria and the semi-final with Spain. Belotti was brought on in place of Insigne, with the Azzurri now playing with a real number nine. Locatelli also came on for Verratti, while Chiellini made yet another tackle to keep out Sterling. Wembley gave a big round of applause for the entry of fan favourite, Jack Grealish, but it was Italy that proved the more dangerous, with a tantalising cross from Emerson having to be dealt with by Pickford before it reached Bernardeschi.
The second period of extra time opened with a free kick from Bernardeschi that was saved by Pickford, and at the other end, Chiellini seemed to be living a déjà vu as he denied Sterling again. In the final three minutes, Florenzi also saw himself back on the pitch after an injury he picked up in the opening match against Turkey. After 120 minutes, Kuipers sounded his whistle again, and the European Championship would be decided on penalties. As against Spain, Italy would take the opening penalty. Berardi stepped up first and slotted past Pickford. Kane went next, kicking the ball decisively past Donnarumma. Pickford saved Belotti's penalty before Maguire put the ball into the corner of the net to put his team ahead. Bonucci scored, then Rashford, who was brought on to take a penalty, hit the post. It was level again. Bernardeschi kicked his penalty down the middle as Pickford dived to the side. Sancho, who also came on just to take a penalty, had his effort saved by Donnarumma. Match point fell once again to the feet of Jorginho, but Pickford, with the help of the post, kept England in it. In the end, Donnarumma saved Saka's final penalty to become the hero of Wembley. Even Mattarella rejoiced in the stands, as Italy became European Champions. The Azzurri dream has come true!