Italy edge out England for the Euro 2020 crown

Italy edge out England for Euro 2020 crown

They were nobody’s pick at the start. They were still doubted to begin the knockout stages. And in the end, it was them hoisting up the trophy. Italy spoiled England’s fairytale ending that was written in every script as the arch towering over Wembley turned Azzurri blue.

Italy and England played out a worthy final to end a magical tournament. Football almost came home. The Three Lions and their fans have every reason to be immensely proud. But it was just not meant to be. At the end of the day, a penalty shootout is a lottery. But Gianluigi Donnarumma looked like he would never let Italy lose.

A giant in between the sticks, the 22-year-old came up huge for Roberto Mancini’s side in the semi-final too. That’s when Italy got their shootout practice in. That’s when Donnarumma showed that he is a master of the silent mental warfare that takes place between the goalkeeper and the taker. On Sunday, the coolest man in London saved two more to assert himself amongst the world’s elite.

As one legendary Gianluigi hung up his international gloves, another stepped in to seamlessly fill his shoes. When one legend finishes, another one begins. England fought hard. Could they have done some things differently? Perhaps. But could those involved have done more? No. It was a valiant effort. But there is only one crown.

Tale of two halves

In terms of goals, it was a tale of two halves.

The whole of England was in dreamland just 120 seconds in as Luke Shaw latched onto a back-post cross from Kieran Trippier to drill home the emphatic opener. Wembley was sent into a frenzy. Italy had never been behind in the tournament. Their backline was virtually impermeable. But the full-back connection penetrated right through it on their first attempt.

It was a fantastic sequence of play. As predicted, Harry Kane dropping deep to play make caused the aging center duo at the heart of the Italian defense problems. As such, nobody picked up the England captain as he drifted inside to pick up the ball and spray it out wide to the onrushing Trippier. With the Azzurri defense stretched, the Atletico Madrid right-back had all of the real estate to run into and plenty of time to assess what’s in front of him.

Shaw has been absolutely instrumental going forward for club and country over the last seven or eight months. His resurgence over the last year has been breathtaking. There might one day be a movie made about it. A very good book for sure. And it was only fitting that he would blast home the opener in the final. Trippier found his back post run with a lovely ball. Shaw called for it. He got it. He delivered.

Italy took the blow on the chin. As experienced as they are, you’d expect them to settle into the game eventually. They did it right away. England didn’t look like they particularly wanted to capitalize on that early momentum swing either. And that may have been a mistake. They stopped playing to their strengths, they wanted to protect the lead, and Italy took over.

Bonucci magic for Italy

Opting to protect a lead that is taken so early very rarely ends well. The pressure you are inviting upon yourself with that approach escalates relentlessly with every passing minute. This was the case here too. England were ahead for just over an hour. But Italy were hammering the door down by then. Jordan Pickford continued his excellent tournament form, but eventually, he was forced to capitulate.

Italy literally willed the ball into the English goal. There was not much finesse about the equalizer. It was just pure desire. They were not going to go down without a fight. And cometh the hour, cometh the Leonardo Bonucci. One half of the ageless center-back partnership that is still oh so good.

Somewhat inexplicably, Marco Verratti beat Mason Mount to a header at the back post. The ball was bouncing loosely and the PSG man just wanted it more. He directed it on frame and saw it bounce off the post having beaten the diving Pickford. To win, luck has to be on your side in some capacity. Luckily for Italy, the ball bounced right into the path of Bonucci, who steered it home, beyond the goal line attempts to block it flying left and right.

(Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

The one-time European champions further grew in confidence. As an England fan, you had to have feared the worst at that time. And especially because the game plan didn’t particularly change. The Three Lions looked quite happy being conservative and letting the gameplay out on Italy’s terms.

As the clock ticked on, it became evident that Southgate was happy to see the game go into penalties, despite his personal history with them. And he got his wish.

Donnarumma show

The soon-to-be PSG man was the deserved recipient of the Player of the Tournament award during the trophy presentation. He has been fantastic throughout the tournament, leading the astute Italy defense by example despite his still tender age. But at 22, Donnarumma already has over six years of professional experience. Euro 2020 only proved that Italy has once again produced a superstar goalkeeper that could be around for just as long as Buffon was.

A lot will be said about Southgate’s selection of penalty takers. The England manager subbed on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho in the dying moments of extra time, just for the shootout. They both missed. As did 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, who surprisingly took the fifth and final spot-kick.

Yes, it was a ton of pressure to put on the shoulders of the above trio. Saka in particular. But rather than criticize, they should be commended for having the cojones to step up in that moment. A moment that overwhelms many stars. While others hide, Rashford, Sancho, and Saka didn’t shy away. They accepted their responsibilities. The night simply belonged to Donnarumma, as two Italians also missed. The final score was 3-2.

For the young and still very promising England side, and particularly the trio named above, this is only the beginning of the road. And failure is one of the key ingredients to success. Many players have missed in a penalty shootout before and many will miss in the future. It’s all part of the game.

And while the Three Lions now take their time to heal, a nation on the other side of Europe rejoices. The Azzurri are back on top. Roberto Mancini has awoken the sleeping giant. The great footballing nation of Italy is a force to be reckoned with once again.

Phenomenally drilled, with tactics tailor-made for their personnel, it’s hard to argue the claim that Italy were the deserved winners. They played some fantastic football throughout the month. They sent a message on day one and made sure it was received in the final. Your new champions of Europe.

Author: Arion Armeniakos

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