Football’s not coming home: England’s agonizing wait for glory goes on as Italy win Euro 2020 on penalties at Wembley
Aiming for football to finally ‘come home’ after a 55-year absence since lifting the World Cup in 1966, England were forced to endure more heartache after suffering spot-kick defeat despite taking an early lead in a game which was short on quality but high on tension.
Luke Shaw’s goal had given England a dream start inside the opening two minutes, but Italy equalized through veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci in the second half.
The scores remained 1-1 after extra time as the contest went to penalties, with England trio Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all missing their efforts with Gianluigi Donnarumma inspired in goal as Italy won the shootout 3-2.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had himself saved efforts from Jorginho and Andrea Belotti, but Rashford struck the post before Donnarumma guessed correctly to thwart Sancho and teenager Saka to hand Italy a second-ever European title in front of a distraught Wembley.
In stark contrast, pumped-up Italy star Bonucci yelled "It's coming to Rome! It's coming to Rome!" into the camera as he spelled out the final destination of the trophy.
England had perhaps dared to hope that they had banished their spot-kick hoodoo after being haunted by penalty defeats so often down the years, but it was another cruel night for the hosts following a mostly evenly-matched game across 120 minutes of football.
Revived under Roberto Mancini since their ignominious failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia three years ago, Italy will be viewed as worthy winners of a tournament which they illuminated from the opening game with their thumping 3-0 win against Turkey in Rome.
After edging past Spain on penalties in the semi-final, they prevailed from the spot again to end their streak of defeats in Euro finals, having fallen at the final hurdle in 2000 and 2012.
FEBRILE WEMBLEY SUFFERS MORE WOE
Any home nerves were understandable as England contested a first major final in 55 years, while the Italians were far more accustomed to the big occasion, gracing a 10th major showpiece – including six at the World Cup and four at the Euros – but were seeking a first European Championship since 1968.
A febrile atmosphere throughout an expectant day in London had turned from celebratory to sour as ticketless fans attempted to storm security cordons at Wembley while clashes broke out with police at hotspots including Leicester Square in the restless hours prior to kick-off.
But the anticipation finally gave way to action, and it was England who made the perfect start inside the first two minutes.
Breaking from an Italian corner, captain Harry Kane sprayed the ball wide on the right to Kieran Trippier, who composed himself before picking out Shaw at the back post. The England wingback arrived to bounce the ball in off the near post and past Donnarumma as Wembley erupted.
It was no shank as Shaw picked his spot on the half volley, writing the latest chapter in the remarkable tale of redemption for a player famously maligned by the likes of former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho.
It was also Shaw’s first strike for the Three Lions and at one minute and 57 seconds was the quickest ever opener in a European Championship final.
1:57 - Luke Shaw's opener was the quickest ever goal scored in the final of the European Championships, as well as his first ever for the England national team. Dream. #ENG#EURO2020pic.twitter.com/l80WW6f4ZL— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 11, 2021
England were off to a flyer, but the early breakthrough heralded a spell of Italian pressing as the men in blue probed the lines to find a way back into the game.
As the half pressed on, England were forced to defend deeper and deeper as Italy shifted the ball with more intent, swarming in to pinch the possession whenever the men in white attempted to break out.
So often a threat throughout the tournament, the livewire Federico Chiesa flashed a shot just left of Pickford’s upright after shirking the attentions of Declan Rice around the half-hour mark. Chiesa was then called on at the other end as the industrious Shaw raced into the Italian box, seeing his cross cut out.
England ended the half under the Italian cosh as the more than 60,000 souls in the Wembley crowd waited anxiously for a respite from the tension. Marco Verratti tested Pickford with a low shot after John Stones had been forced into a block, but England held on to take their lead into the interval.
Unbeaten in 33 games heading into the final, Italy weren’t quite clicking but it seemed evident that England would need to brace for more pressure to come in the second half.
England started the second period with shouts for a penalty when Sterling went down under pressure from Bonucci in the box. There was an arm across the England forward as he took to the ground, but not enough for the VAR to recommend that Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers review the incident.
Pickford was called on to stop Lorenzo Insigne’s shot which was drilled straight at him from an acute angle, but Italy started to turn the screws to a chorus of boos from the Wembley crowd. Any cheers were reserved for misplaced Italian passes rather than any moments of England intent.
The incisive Chiesa remained the biggest threat for Italy, weaving inside to fire off a low shot which forced Pickford to save at near full stretch down to his left. Still England held firm, indebted to the likes of the tireless Rice and Kalvin Phillips for their harrying at the base of midfield.
But as the clock ticked down and Italy pressed, the situation seemed eerily and uncomfortably similar to England’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia three years ago in Moscow.
On that occasion, the Croatian pressure had penetrated the England line to equalize in the 68th minute – this time around, the pain arrived one minute earlier.
After England failed to deal with a corner, Pickford palmed the ball onto the post from a Marco Verratti header only for the lurking Bonucci to arrive to turn the ball home.
34 & 71 - Leonardo Bonucci (34 years and 71 days) has become the oldest scorer in a EURO final, beating the previous record of Bernd Hölzenbein in 1976 (30 years and 103 days). Strike.#ItaliaInghilterra#Euro2020Final#EURO2020#ITAENGpic.twitter.com/0VC6UhTJOZ— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) July 11, 2021
Italy had the momentum, and Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate brought on 19-year-old Saka for Trippier and Jordan Henderson for Rice in an effort to inject some much-needed energy into his flailing team.
Italy looked like inevitable winners, but England dug deep and started to turn the blue tide. The tension was palpable, with Chiellini tugging down Saka in cynical style to earn a yellow card as the game went to extra time.
Sterling had the next significant chance to arrive, but the timeless Bonucci defied his 34 years to chase the winger down and block his cross into the box.
Suddenly England looked like they had a second wind, and Southgate sent on the maverick Jack Grealish as his joker in the pack as Mason Mount made way.
Into the second period of extra time and Italy were presented with a chance when substitute Federico Bernardeschi drove the ball at Pickford, who fumbled the shot but gathered the ball gratefully before an Italian body could pounce.
Sterling eyed a chance at the other end, but again the omnipresent Chiellini snuffed out the danger. Both he and partner Bonucci were producing yet another defensive masterclass, drawing on all their years of guile to keep England at bay.
Soon after, Jorginho went in dangerously on Grealish with studs showing but escaped only with a yellow card.
England boss Southgate rang the changes with penalties looming, with Rashford and Sancho replacing Henderson and Kyle Walker.
PENALTY PAIN RETURNS FOR ENGLAND
The teams could not be separated after 120 minutes of football, sending the match – and the destination of the title – to spot kicks.
Coming home or going to Rome, penalties would be the arbiter.
Domenico Berardi sent Pickford the wrong way to score Italy’s first effort, before England skipper Kane found the corner despite Donnarumma choosing the right side of the goal.
Pickford then saved from Andrea Belotti to his left, handing England the advantage, as Maguire subsequently sent his effort into the top corner to put the Three Lions 2-1 up.
Bonucci put his strike just beyond Pickford’s reach, but Rashford then hit the post with his effort as the shootout scores were level at 2-2.
Bernardeschi placed his strike down the middle as Pickford dived despairingly to his right, and Italy had their noses in front. Substitute Sancho was next up for England, but his effort was saved by Donnarumma diving at full stretch to his left.
Penalty master Jorginho stepped up for Italy but Pickford guessed right and tipped his shot onto the post to keep England in the shootout.
England's fifth kick fell on the teenage shoulders of Arsenal star Saka, and the pressure could hardly have been more immense. Again Donnarumma guessed correctly, palming away Saka's shot at a comfortable height to give Italy a first European Championship in more than half a century.
Italy were ecstatic, England were crestfallen.
Perhaps fittingly, the 22-year-old Donnarumma was named player of the tournament while fireworks erupted across the London night sky, but not in celebration of the home success for which English fans had been so desperately hoping.
England's wait for major tournament glory goes on as football failed to come home, despite making it all the way to doorstep.