European Championship final at Wembley Stadium. Italy’s players cheer with the trophy after the match.
Christian Charisius | Picture Alliance | Getty Images
It was penalty shootout heartbreak again for England and Gareth Southgate, as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed from the spot in a crushing Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy.
When Jordan Pickford saved from Andrea Belotti there was real hope of a first major trophy in 55 years and ultimate redemption for Southgate, who missed a decisive spot-kick in the semi-final of Euro 96, but from the brink of glory in front of their own supporters at Wembley, England collapsed.
Rashford rolled a tame shot against the post and Sancho and Saka saw player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma save their efforts in a 3-2 shootout defeat, sparking celebrations from the Italian players and the small but vocal cluster of their fans at the other end of the pitch.
Luke Shaw had given England a dream start, scoring his first goal for his country and the fastest of a Euros final ever, when he met a deep cross with a thumping half-volley just three minutes in. Southgate’s surprise wing-back system was causing Italy real problems but Roberto Mancini’s side wrestled control of possession and set about wearing their opponents down.
The deserved equaliser eventually came from a set-piece, with veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci tapping in after a scramble on 67 minutes and, at 34 years old, becoming the oldest goalscorer in a Euros final. He was also one of three Italians to find the net from 12 yards at the end of extra-time to seal their second Euros crown, after their first in 1968.
For England’s players, though, there was only despair. Southgate tried to console Rashford, Sancho and Saka but he knows himself how badly they will be feeling.
The manager will be able to talk about the progress of his young side, how they have made the country unite behind them in hope, and point to a chance to go again at the World Cup in 16 months’ time. But there will also be a cold, cruel realisation that England’s glorious chance to win it on their own patch has been lost.
How the cup was won…
In contrast to the dejected mood of the England supporters as Italy celebrated, hours before kick-off, Wembley Way was flooded with fans, waving flares and booting footballs, drinking and chanting for their heroes. The supporters numbered far in excess of the 60,000 lucky enough to have tickets, with thousands making the pilgrimage to the national stadium to be a part of the historic occasion.
That enthusiasm and desire to support the team over-spilled on several occasions, with some trying to force their way into the stadium. They were unsavoury scenes but did not detract from the incredible atmosphere created by supporters inside the ground, with the crescendo at kick-off unlike anything the new Wembley has witnessed before.
Italy’s defender Leonardo Bonucci (C) poses with the European Championship trophy after Italy won the UEFA EURO 2020 final football match between Italy and England at the Wembley Stadium in London on July 11, 2021.
Laurence Griffiths | AFP | Getty Images
That noise went to a whole new level just moments after the first whistle. Italy had won an early corner but England counter-attacked rapidly, with Harry Kane shuttling the ball out wide to Kieran Trippier, who delivered a fantastic cross to the back post for Shaw to lash home a brilliant half-volley.
What a hit it was for his first goal for his country, and what a start to the final for England, who continued to cause real problems down the right side, with Emerson struggling to prevent Trippier from delivering two more crosses in quick succession.
The rain began to fall and the pitch quickened up, but it was still England fastest to every loose ball, sharpest with their touch and attacking with real pace. There were cheers from the England supporters as first Kalvin Phillips and then Harry Maguire confidently carried the ball out of defence past blue shirts, before sarcastic applause greeted Lorenzo Insigne’s dragged drive wide.
The jeers were more nervous when Federico Chiesa, trying to single-handedly get his side back on track, fired just past the upright on 35 minutes after a spell of Italian pressure. Mancini’s side remained on the front foot but struggled to see a way through the walls of white shirts, with Ciro Immobile’s shot blocked by John Stones and Marco Verratti’s follow up easy for Pickford.
England thought they had made another fast start at the beginning of the second half, when Raheem Sterling hit the deck in the box as he tried to wriggle past two Italy defenders but his penalty appeals were waved away and replays showed it was the forward trying to initiate contact.
He was then almost punished for a foul of his own at the other end, with Insigne clipping a free-kick just off target. The tricky winger badly miscued another effort soon after but he was the Italians’ main threat, firing at Pickford from a tight angle after being forced wide in the box by Stones and Kyle Walker.
Italy’s Manuel Locatelli (M) tries to shoot at England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s (l) goal.
Christian Charisius | Picture Alliance | Getty Images
England’s No 1 had to be even sharper to keep out Chiesa’s low drive with his left hand moments later before Stones landed his side’s first shot on target since the goal from a corner, forcing Donnarumma to tip over.
It was an Italian corner which brought the equaliser, though. The ball travelled to the back post, where Verratti directed a header at goal. Pickford managed to tip it onto the inside of his post but Bonucci reacted quickest to stick it away.
Southgate’s response was to send on Saka and switch his side to 4-3-3 – but they almost fell behind when Domenico Berardi connected with Bonucci’s long pass over the top on the volley, sending his effort over with Pickford out of his goal.
The momentum seemed to be with Italy but an injury to Chiesa stalled the game and England were better for the breather, with Mason Mount combining with Shaw and crossing for Saka, Shaw firing over, and Sterling running from deep into the Italian box.
Saka looked to have broken free near the halfway line on the stroke of full-time but he was cynically hauled down by Giorgio Chiellini, who was booked, and, for the second match in a row, these teams were forced into extra-time.
Chiellini showed the more admirable side of his game five minutes after the restart, making a crucial block after Sterling drove into the box, before Phillips shot wide from the resulting corner. With England’s tails suddenly up, Jack Grealish was thrown into the action. The maverick clearly worried Italy’s defenders as soon as he got on the ball – but it was the Azzurri next to go close.
Emerson’s cross was just missed by Federico Bernardeschi and forced away by Pickford before Bernardeschi’s shot was blocked by Phillips in the next move.
Bernardeschi hit a free-kick straight at Pickford at the start of the second half before Wembley gasped at the other end as first Grealish saw a shot in the box blocked and then a cross was just out of the reach of Stones, as Donnarumma punched clear.
The Aston Villa ace was beginning to make England tick again, despite getting Jorginho studs in his thigh during one painful collision, but by this stage attentions were turning towards the looming penalty shoot-out, with Rashford and Sancho sent on by Southgate.
Perhaps it was inevitable that England’s destiny in their first final since 1966 would be decided by what has been the major talking point of their shortcomings in these competitions in modern times. They hoped to have put their poor record from 12 yards to bed at Russia 2018 when they beat Colombia – but it was a familiar tale of despair from the spot.
Pickford had Wembley believing when he denied Belotti but Rashford and Sancho handed the advantage back to Italy and although Jorginho surprisingly missed the chance to wrap it up, Saka’s effort was saved to send the trophy Italy’s way.
See you in Qatar 22 read the advertising boards. For all the pain of this defeat, Southgate’s inspiring young side at least won’t have long to wait to go again…