July 12, (THEWILL) – Having last lost in 2018 and being denied a place in the World Cup of that year, Italy ended England’s hopes of bringing home a trophy after a 55-year wait with penalty kicks as they came from behind to defeat the home side at Wembley to close out Euro 2020.
Penalty kicks from a tension-soaked cast of players saw the Azzurris lose kicks taken by Andrea Belotti and Jorginho. What gave the result to the Italians however was that substitute Marcus Rashford hit the post while Italian keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma denied another substitute Jadon Sancho.
The final penalty that determined the result was a decisive kick from Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka that Donnarumma stopped as well to give Roberto Mancini’s side a 3-2 triumph after the game had ended 1-1 following extra time of the game.
The contradiction is that England took the upper hand early in the final as Luke Shaw got England off to a flying start in just one minute and 56 seconds when he coolly netted his first goal for his country. The goal was the quickest strike in European Championship history.
As a goal in the final, it is something straight off the training ground and a pleasure to rewatch. The flow of the ball that led to it fully justified coach Southgate’s decision to return to a back three formation for the final. It was the returning Kieran Trippier who crossed for his fellow wing back Shaw to arrive late and steer beyond Donnarumma to break the deadlock.
Furthermore, Southgate’s decision to use their wide players was a key feature of their attack in the first half played a role in keeping England competitively matched with the Italians. The English defence endeavoured to frustrate the Azzurri forwards and nullified their attempts to play through the lines to keep their lead.
The domination of possession belonged to Italy and having endured a tight first half, the Roberto Mancini-led side stepped it up after the break. In that very tactical second, an energetic Federico Chiesa was a player that was impossible to get a grapple on and was a threat throughout. The same could be said of Lorenzo Insigne, who was a potent force.
They pressed the England keeper Jordan Pickford into making crucial saves and he was up to the challenge every time. He denied Chiesa from equalising and stopped Insigne’s attempt at goal as well. However, the constant pressure from the Italians led to a 67th minute equaliser.
A corner from the right side of the pitch was not dealt with defensively by Southgate’s side allowing Leonardo Bonucci to sweep in and score after a little goal mouth scramble that followed from Pickford tipping Marco Verratti’s header on to the post.
There were some more chances for both sides to add to the score but with the match tied at one goal apiece, extra time was needed to find a winner. Both coaches made some substitutions to bring in fresh legs into contention and tip the scales in their favour on the penalty kicks that were almost certain to follow with no more goals at hand.
Those substitutes ultimately failed Southgate as the only two of the five penalties the English team managed to put in were from the two Harrys who began the game: Kane and Maguire. The other three, from substitutes Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, were all lost.
The penalties finished the game 3-2 after the kicks in Italy’s favour and the Italian fans burst in wild celebrations, joining the ecstatic players and their coach to dance in victory while the bitter tears of loss stung the eyes of English players and the majority of those packed into the Wembley Stadium.
It was another unfortunate end for them with a history full of chapters where penalties have ended the hopes and dreams of the nation of football lovers. But because this was the furthest they have gone in a tournament, it will probably be one of the most painful of them all. Yet, they must now pick up the positives, of which there are many, and build on that for the World Cup next year November.
However, for the victors, their unbeaten run stretches to 34 matches and they have closed out a remarkable run with the final win grown on tactical input and street smartness that got them back on level terms and won on penalties.
The work that Mancini has done since taking over after the disaster that was 2014, when they failed to reach the World Cup in Russia, is enough for him to bask in the glory of leading his country to their second ever European Championship title.