July 13, 2021 9:57:19 am
At 12:06 a.m. local time Monday, immediately after Italy’s goalie blocked a penalty kick to defeat England and become the soccer champions of Europe, Carlo Cottarelli, a prominent Italian economist sometimes mentioned as a potential prime minister, celebrated with a single word.
“Brexit!!!!!!!!” he wrote on Twitter.
Cottarelli had a lot of company from European members of Parliament to raucous Italian fans and the continent’s leaders in connecting England’s failure in the finals of Euro 2020 to Britain’s exit from the European Union, known the world over as Brexit.
It was inevitable that political score settling would be layered onto the match. Italy was a founding member of the European Union and is currently led by a statesman often credited with saving it. England is part of the country that gambled its own stability and future by leaving the EU last year.
After the two sides negotiated difficult passes between defenders, committed egregious fouls and pushed for advantage long after the allotted time had expired, the Italians hoisted the trophy in Wembley Stadium. Star Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci, who scored a critical second-half goal, was caught mocking the angry English fans, calling them weaklings who needed “to eat more pasta.”
On Monday, as “Brexit Completed” memes filled the Italian web, fans crowded the luxury hotel where the team was staying outside the Villa Borghese park in Rome, and cheered as their bus rode to the Quirinal Palace, one of the homes of Italy’s president. The players, wearing gray jackets over black T-shirts and pants, moved with the swagger of young men out on the town.
After 6 p.m., police cars tried to cut a path for the blue bus, striped with the colors of the Italian flag, through thick crowds of stopped scooters and fans leaning out of ambulances and cars, waving flags, singing soccer chants, lining the broad avenues and running alongside the road. The motorcade brought the players to the center of Rome and the Chigi Palace, draped with an enormous Italian flag, where they met the palace’s main resident, Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi.
The government’s official feed put the images on its livestream.
Draghi, sometimes called “Super Mario” after helping to save the European Union as the former head of the European Central Bank, stepped out from the palace into the square to greet the team as the crowd roared at the sight of the trophy held by the players.
Draghi took off his mask, exposing a rare, unironic smile, while the team surrounded him and chanted: “It’s us; the Champions of Italy are us.”
Draghi then turned to shake the hand of Matteo Berrettini, the first Italian man to reach the finals of the Wimbledon tennis tournament. Next to the soccer players Berrettini looked like a consul.
Everyone moved inside the palace courtyard for a ceremony broadcast on national television, where, in front of Italian and European Union flags, Draghi made a point to thank the team’s coach, Roberto Mancini, and captain, Giorgio Chiellini, and to praise goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, telling him, “And what a block.”
But the prime minister had a bigger point too.
“You put us at the center of Europe, and the many messages of congratulations we received in these hours even me, personally prove it,” he said, adding that sports were “an instrument of union especially in difficult moments such as the one we went through.”
Other Italian and European politicians were less subtle.
Before the final began, President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission looked absolutely delighted to don the Italian colors with her name on the jersey above the number 27, which is the number of countries in the bloc. If England had stayed, she would have worn 28.
“Very nice surprise from our E.U. Commission team in Italy,” she wrote, beaming as she held up the jersey and posed behind an “Italy” scarf. She wished the Italian team good luck and wrote, “Fingers crossed for tonight’s Euro 2020 final.”
“Go Italy,” Alessandra Moretti, a liberal member of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter. “A united Europe beats the England of Brexit!”
A Polish colleague in the Parliament, Lukasz Kohut, said he was rooting for Italy because of Brexit, and after the final whistle, Luis Garicano, a member of Parliament from Spain, posted a video of the revelry at a viewing party just outside the building. “Brexit on the side of European Parliament,” he wrote.
Some of the most enthusiastic rooting against England came from the corners of the United Kingdom most disgusted with Brexit.
Before the game, the Scottish newspaper The National superimposed the face of Mancini on Mel Gibson’s character in the movie “Braveheart,” with the headline, “Save us Roberto, You’re our Final Hope: We can’t take another 55 years of them banging on about this.”
Italy’s media also couldn’t resist the softballs.
Giovanna Pancheri, an anchorwoman on SkyTG24, one of Italy’s leading news channels, celebrated the victory with a Tweet, in English.
“Brexit is real,” she wrote, “and it is so good!”
In pregame reports from Wembley Stadium, her broadcast colleagues noted how drunk and aggressive many English fans were, at times interrupting their interviews with Italian fans, who appeared polite, enthusiastic and happy-to-be-there.
In fact, a good riddance vibe imbued much of the horn-honking, firework-lighting and air horn-sounding celebrations into the not-so-small hours on Monday in Rome.
As tens of thousands of Italian fans spilled into the streets and flowed through the city, they marched under large signs reading “Happy Brexit” and called England “worthless” for leaving the EU. Many fans cheered when the Italian team brandished their trophy, waved and smoked e-cigarettes from atop a British style double-decker bus papered with the words “Champions of Europe.”
Before the game, Nigel Farage, an architect of Brexit, said he did not appreciate von der Leyen’s public preference for Italy.
Sitting on a couch and resembling a British flag that had donned a blazer and tie, Farage said he “didn’t want to bring Brexit into it, believe me, but it can’t be helped because Ursula von der Leyen and other European commissioners are making it absolutely clear they want Italy to win.”
“They’re telling us that the whole of Europe wants Italy to win,” he said. “They can’t bear the thought of Brexit, Britain succeeding.”
After Sunday night’s game, they didn’t have to.