England’s heartache goes on as Italy win Euro 2020 on penalties

Rashford, Sancho and Saka all miss for England after a tense draw at Wembley

England’s Bukayo Saka reacts after missing a penalty as Italy’s players celebrate winning Europ 2020. Photo: John Sibley/AFP via Getty Images

England’s Bukayo Saka reacts after missing a penalty as Italy’s players celebrate winning Europ 2020. Photo: John Sibley/AFP via Getty Images

 

England 1 Italy 1 (AET - Italy win 3-2 on penalties)

For Gareth Southgate, it had to be penalties. The England manager’s shot at personal redemption demanded nothing else. Back at the scene of his worst moment, the one he had carried for so many years – the decisive penalty shootout miss against Germany at the Euro 96 semi-finals – the symmetry was too strong.

The 120 minutes had been nerve-shredding, England enjoying early elation when Luke Shaw scored his first ever international goal, a magnificent half-volley with the game’s first move. And then came what felt like the slow and inexorable trudge towards defeat.

Southgate’s team had been comfortable in the first half but the final slid away from them thereafter, Italy turning up the temperature, pinning England back. There were long spells when Southgate’s players could not get out. The approach felt wrong.

It was fraught and the similarities to the 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat against Croatia were clear, England sitting deeper and coming to lack inspiration. Italy got the equaliser that they deserved through Leonardo Bonucci and, during extra time, the spectre of penalties hung heavy.

England celebrate their early goal against Italy at Wembley stadium. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
England celebrate their early goal against Italy at Wembley stadium. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

When they came, England lost their nerve, three substitutes – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and, decisively, Bukayo Saka – missing their kicks. It was a night when sporting immortality had beckoned for England, a first trophy since the World Cup of 1966. In the end, it would be a depressingly familiar hard luck story.

The build-up to England’s biggest sporting occasion since 1966 had been almost biblical in scale and there is no doubt that it was an I-was-there moment for everybody fortunate enough to be inside the stadium.

The weight of history was an inescapable part of the spectacle. If it was a tenth major final for Italy, there was a novelty factor for generations of England fans that fired an overwhelming cocktail of emotions, with nervousness prominent. Thirty years of hurt? England had added another 25 to the equation since the song was written.

It was always going to be a tactical affair, with Southgate opening with a wing-back system, having recalled Kieran Trippier on the right and dropped Saka to the bench. The fight for the centre would be pivotal and Southgate wanted both Trippier and Shaw on the left to push up and ask questions.

Shaw was central to the dream England start, igniting the move for the breakthrough goal with a moment of quick-footed drive and finishing it with a half-volley of flawless technique. It was a difficult skill to execute as Trippier’s cross from the other flank came across his body and yet he banged it in off Gianluigi Donnarumma’s near post. Harry Kane had played a low crossfield pass out to Trippier and it was pleasing for Southgate to see both of his wing-backs so high and effective. Nobody in blue had tracked the run of Shaw to the far post.

Bonucci celebrates scoring his side’s equaliser. Photo: Christian Charisius/PA Wire via DPA
Bonucci celebrates scoring his side’s equaliser. Photo: Christian Charisius/PA Wire via DPA

Italy’s status as a world football power is established and the run that they brought to Wembley – a national team record of 33 games and nearly three years without defeat – had fired their belief. Roberto Mancini’s work since taking over from Gian Piero Ventura after the failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup has been little short of sensational but, like Southgate, he believed that merely reaching the final was not enough.

England’s start was excellent. Kane dropped back to good effect to pick his passes and step away from challengers and, with Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount tucking inside, there were running lanes on the overlap for Trippier and Shaw. Out of possession, there was a compact feel to Southgate’s team and Italy gasped their way to the 20-minute mark. During a nightmare opening period for them, they misplaced passes and were out-manoeuvred.

Italy had dominated possession in their ties leading up to the final – apart from in the semi-final against Spain – and they stabilised from the midway point of the first half when they got hold of it. Slowly but surely, they felt their confidence return and they came to make a few inroads, with Lorenzo Insigne flickering off the left.

England were comfortable before the interval, keeping their opponents in front of them. Federico Chiesa got the better of Declan Rice on 36 minutes to advance and pull a low shot one yard past Jordan Pickford’s post while Ciro Immobile had a first-time effort from Giovanni Di Lorenzo’s cross blocked by John Stones. That was it from Italy. They had to do more in the second half.

Donnarumma saves Saka’s penalty to win it. Photo: Paul Ellis/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Donnarumma saves Saka’s penalty to win it. Photo: Paul Ellis/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Sterling’s battle with Bonucci featured him shouting for a penalty against him on 48 minutes, which would been soft, and also being clattered by the centre-half. Retribution? Bonucci accepted the yellow card.

Italy remained on the front foot and it was drama of the highest order, the noise from the stands relentless. Kane provided moments of release with his composure on the ball, his desire to carry it, and there were also some dynamic bursts from Rice, who was more than a mere midfield holder.

Insigne blew a free-kick on the edge of the area, centrally placed; he shot at Pickford from a tight angle and then a big Italy chance, Chiesa jinking from left to right and unloading only for Pickford to save smartly. England fans felt their hearts thump. The equaliser was coming and Italy got it when a corner broke for Marco Verratti, whose header was turned on to the post by Pickford. Bonucci muscled in to convert the rebound.

Southgate had to stem the flow of Italy attacks and he swapped Trippier for Saka and went to 4-3-3. Jordan Henderson also replaced Rice. And yet it was all Italy for the remainder of normal time, for whom the substitute, Domenico Berardi, went the closest. England were left to cling on.

The extra 30 minutes were characterised by tired legs, substitutions, tension, a bad Jorginho tackle on the substitute, Jack Grealish, and the lack of the big opening. Penalties had come to feel inevitable. – Guardian

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