Italy’s national team are European champions for the second time in their history! In the grand final of UEFA EURO 2020, the Azzurri defeated the English national team after a series of penalty kicks, and the hero of a long evening at Wembley was Gianluigi Donnarumma, who defended two eleven. “We played a great match, now we are legends,” said a delighted Leonardo Bonucci, scorer of the equalizing goal for Italy, after the final whistle.
Exactly one month ago, the Italians opened EURO 2020 with an impressive 3-0 victory over Turkey at the Stadio Olimpico, presenting a completely new face that delighted many outside soccer fans. High pressing, impressive intensity of the game, full domination over rivals – that’s how the whole group phase looked like Bella Italia, as quickly called in foreign media team constructed by Roberto Mancini. In the knockout stages, especially after the injury of Leonardo Spinazzola, who played a phenomenal tournament, Squadra Azzurra became a bit more calculating, but still effective in its operation. Defensively, the duo of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci were in command (they didn’t concede more than one goal in any game of the tournament), while offensively, Federico Chiesa was at the forefront, supported by a well-organised second line. Physically, too, it would be hard to find a better prepared team at this World Cup, especially as Veratti and co. went into three extra periods – as if they had played an extra game!
The English, on the other hand, were much slower to get going and made their trademark an iron-clad defence. Only one goal conceded on their way to the final must be impressive, but that does not mean that the Sons of Albion were limited to defence. Raheem Sterling (3 goals and an assist) has emerged as a candidate for MVP, working superbly with Harry Kane, who after moderately successful group games finally started to score regularly and stopped at 4. A considerable asset of the team under the sign of the Three Lions was also the temple of soccer, that is their legendary Wembley Stadium, where they played as many as 6 of 7 matches at EURO 2020. It is in this unique place 55 years ago Geoff Hurst and his colleagues enjoyed the only championship so far for England at a great event (in the final of the 1966 World Cup they defeated Germany after extra time 4:2).
3 – This is the third major tournament (EURO/World Cup) final to be held at Wembley Stadium. The previous two were both won in extra time, with England beating Germany in the 1966 World Cup, and Germany beating Czech Republic in EURO 1996. Theatre. #ENG #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/VP5MRW3mst
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 11, 2021
On Sunday, the fate of the title was also not decided in regulation time, although after the first half the hosts had all the assets in their hands. They came out on top after just a few dozen seconds, when Kieran Trippier’s pass was finished with a shot from the first ball by Luke Shaw (the fastest goal in the European Championship finals). It was the first and – as it turned out – only accurate strike of the English! The Italians, however, for a long time were not able to threaten Jordan Pickford and an exemplarily organized in front of him defense, which from the twelve previous games as many as ten finished on zero back. Gareth Southgate’s players defended compactly and above all did not allow themselves to be caught out in individual duels. Until…
Genialna połowa Anglików. Po 45 minutach zasługują na tytuł bez cienia wątpliwości. To co gra Kane, wcale nie w ataku, tłumaczy dlaczego jest kapitanem. To jak uaktywnił się Rice, pokazuje, że w tej kadrze każdy jest w stanie być liderem w którymś meczu. Pod wrażeniem. #ITAENG
— Michał Kołodziejczyk (@Michal_Kolo) July 11, 2021
The signal to awake gave the Italians before the break dynamic Chiesa, but his first attempt after an individual rally was minimally off target. In the second half the Juventus player already shone in full glory – first he worked out a situation Insigne, and after a moment he wanted to surprise the Everton goalkeeper himself with a flat shot after a long corner. Then the goal was not scored, but the advantage of Italy began to draw more and more clearly. Finally, in the 67th minute, after a corner, the Azzurri got what they wanted – the Sunderland alum did everything he could to avoid capitulation after Veratti’s header, but Bonucci’s shot from close range was helpless.
The visitors from the Apennine Peninsula even had a chance to take the lead, but substitute Berardi’s shot went wide of Pickford’s outgoing goal. In spite of this, the changes made by Roberto Mancini (he took off, among others, disappointing that day Immobile and Barella – editor’s note) again proved to be accurate and in the end allowed to reverse the fate of the final. Who knows, if the decision would not have been reached much earlier, if the phenomenal Chiesa had not had to leave the field prematurely due to injury.
Not much happened in extra time, but the Sons of Albion left a better impression than in the earlier stages of the competition, mainly thanks to Jack Grealish’s successful entry from the bench. In the end, the European champion, for the second time in history, was decided by a penalty shoot-out. The Italians had the better mental toughness as they converted 3 of their 5 penalties, while their opponents missed three. England’s youth failed to deliver, especially the two offensive players introduced in the 120th minute only to approach the ball on the spot. Marcus Rashford hit the post and Jadon Sancho’s shot was defended by Gianluigi Donnarumma. In this situation, the championship for Italy was to seal Jorginho and … unexpectedly failed. At the crucial moment, the pressure was also not withstood by 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, whose intentions were sensed by Donnarumma. A second European Championship title for the Squadra Azzurra then became a fact!
5/5 – Gianluigi Donnarumma has won each of the five games in which his team has faced penalty shootouts: three for his club and two for the National Team. Superman.#ItaliaInghilterra #Euro2020Final #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/41uCXUa6Ge
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) July 11, 2021
Współczuję tym angielskim dzieciakom. Dziś obie drużyny zasłużyły na zwycięstwo. W przekroju turnieju bardziej Italia. Super turniej, dobry finał, żal, że koniec.
— Leszek Orłowski (@Leszek_Orlowski) July 11, 2021
The advantage of their own stadium did not help the English, who further deepened their complex against the opponent from the southern part of the Old Continent, because they have not yet won against Italy at a major event. Another thing is that no one has won against Mancini’s team since September 2018 (defeat 0:1 against Portugal in the Nations League – ed.)!
“We made history! We have deserved it. We are an exceptional group. Nobody believed in us, but we got here [to the final – ed.] Before the penalty shootout series, I was subdued and knew very well what to do” – revealed Gianluigi Donnarumma, named the best footballer of UEFA EURO 2020.
“We played a great match, now we are legends. I’m going on vacation soon together with Giorgio Chiellini and I’ll try to convince him to stay with the national team until the next World Cup” – leonardo Bonucci added, as quoted by RMF 24 portal.
In November 2017, Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
In May 2018, they appointed Roberto Mancini.
In July 2021, Italy go a national record 34 games unbeaten and win the European Championship.
— Squawka (@Squawka) July 11, 2021
The newly crowned champion of the Old Continent will soon score a well-deserved promotion in the FIFA ranking and will certainly be among the candidates for the final triumph at next year’s World Cup in Qatar. The former Inter and Manchester City coach created a perfectly complementary blend of routine and youth, and successfully combined beauty with ugliness. The results, however, exceeded the wildest expectations of even his compatriots themselves.
“The boys were amazing. I have no words of admiration for them, they are a great group of players. There were no easy matches in this tournament. The final was also difficult, and it became much more difficult after a quick goal loss. But after that we dominated on the pitch” – summarized the most important match in the coaching career of Robert Mancini.
In the standout photo: The Italian national team celebrates winning the UEFA EURO 2020 final; photo: Matteo Ciambelli / DeFodi Images via Getty Images Sport