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Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Italy bring home Euro 2020 title after 53 years

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma emerged as a hero with two saves during the shootout as Italy won Euro 2020 title 3-2 on penalties. At the end of regulation time and extra-time, Italy and England were deadlocked at 1-1.

Written by Ahaan Bhansali |
Updated: July 12, 2021 11:23:42 am
Italy's goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, 2nd right, and his teammates celebrate after winning the Euro 2020 final. (AP)

FORZA AZZURRI! In a sensational UEFA Euro 2020 Final, Italy won their second European Championship through a penalty shootout against favourites, England. Having failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy showed nothing short of a complete transformation under their coach, Roberto Mancini, and seasoned brick walls Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini. However, ecstasy for Italy meant heartbreak for the Three Lions, who fell short of bringing it home at Wembley. In what seemed like déjà vu for Gareth Southgate, the English side faced an agonizing defeat, losing 3-2 at the end of penalties.

England put on an early Shaw

Italy started off with a quick corner delivered by Insigne into the English area. However, a confident clearance by Maguire created the perfect English counter-attack that was both started and finished by Luke Shaw. The ball eventually found its way across to Kane, who rocketed it down the right flank to a charged-up Trippier racing into an expanse of empty space. Into the second minute, Trippier released the ball over the top of Italy’s line of defence, finding Shaw at the far post. In an unstoppable volley, Shaw sent the ball into the back of Italy’s net at Wembley. The stadium erupted into madness as England secured an early lead. Donnarumma and the Italians were stunned at what had just happened and watched on as a jubilant English side wildly celebrated what had just been the fastest goal at a European Championship final.

Chiesa’ Chances

Italy seemed to be dominating possession, creating plenty of chances for an equalizer. One of the key figures in creating these opportunities was Federico Chiesa, who was proving increasingly threatening, every time he neared the English penalty box. Chiesa almost found Italy’s equalizer in the 62nd minute as he pushed forward down the left flank. Skipping his way past three English defenders to find himself a suitable shooting position, Chiesa powered a beauty towards the bottom corner, which was only kept out by the brilliance of Jordan Pickford.

Bonucci’s Banger

After the first 45 minutes, Wembley had become too silent to be true. Thousands of fans held their breath as Italy drilled forward, searching for a miracle to stay in the game. The equalizer came in the second half, and no one could say that they didn’t see it coming. Italy had been absolutely brilliant, playing quick, skillful football with passion and rigour. In the 67th minute, Insigne flicked a corner into the near post to find the head of Verratti, who sent the ball towards the English goal. In a fine effort, Pickford found a way to the ball, clawing it against the post. However, it wasn’t enough as seconds later stalwart Bonucci converted the rebound to beat Pickford and bring Italy level at Wembley.

All Italy

6 minutes later and Italy found itself with another huge opportunity. They had enjoyed 74 percent possession until this point and were certainly creating moments of extreme frustration for English fans. In an anxious moment for England, Bonucci sent a stunning cross over the English defence, finding Berardi who was all set for a goal. Picking up the ball forward (73rd minute)  in a first-time volley, Berardi flung it over a charging Pickford. However, it raced over the bar in one of Italy’s closest opportunities to double their score.

Rome-Bound

With no winner at the end of extra time, the 2020 European Championship was into its fourth penalty shootout. No side had ever won two penalty shootouts at the Euros, and this was Italy’s second in the tournament. Tension and pressure began to mount, and the 60,000 Wembley spectators keenly watched on.

England won the toss to take in front of the home fans, but had to take second. In the first moment of high drama, Belotti was blocked by a heroic Pickford save, as the Italian missed his team’s second penalty, putting them under early pressure.

However, scores were level when England’s late substitute Marcus Rashford attempted to send Donnarumma the wrong way, only to clip the edge of the post. Jadon Sancho, who was next for England, was also blocked by the unsurpassable Italian goalkeeper. Placing the ball at an ideal height for Donnarumma to keep out, Sancho was blocked in a must-score penalty for England.

They had lost the edge, and Italy was one shot away from victory. But Jorginho, who scored the decisive penalty for Spain, saw his effort stopped by Pickford. English fans roared with newfound energy as their side had miraculously found their way back into the shootout. England, however, still had to convert their last penalty to bring the scores level. Gareth Southgate sent 19-year-old Bukayo Saka to take the final spot-kick, a decision that has been questioned by many. The teenager was comfortably kept out by a charged-up Donnarumma, who sealed the deal for Italy.

At the end of the shootout, Italy had rewritten history. Prevailing by three goals to two, the Blues extended their unbeaten run to 34 games in all tournaments and won their first European Championship since their last victory in 1968. English dreams of ending their 55 year-long struggle with football had been shattered, and instead of going ‘home’ the European Championships made their way, in a wonderful finish, to Rome.

(Ahaan is an intern with indianexpress.com)

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