ITALY CONQUER EUROPE

Written by on July 12, 2021

Gianluigi Donnarumma dived to his left and saved the decisive spot-kick by Bukayo Saka, England’s third straight failure from the penalty spot in the shoot-out in front of its own fans at Wembley Stadium.

 

It was less than four years ago that the Italians plunged to the lowest moment of its soccer history by failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades. Now, they are the best team in Europe and on a national-record 34-match unbeaten run under Roberto Mancini, their suave coach.

England was playing in its first major final in 55 years. It’s the latest heartache in shootouts at major tournaments, after defeats in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, and 2012.

England went ahead in the second minute when Luke Shaw scored the fastest goal in a European Championship final. Leonardo Bonucci equalized in the 67th.

Saka, a 19-year-old Londoner, was embraced by several England players after his miss. England coach Gareth Southgate hugged Jadon Sancho, who missed the previous England penalty, while Marcus Rashford — the other one to miss — walked off down the tunnel.

Sancho and Rashford had been brought on in the final minute of extra time, seemingly as specialist penalty takers.

 

Donnarumma was in tears as he was embraced by his teammates as they sprinted toward him from the halfway line, where they watched the second penalty shootout in a European Championship final.

They then headed to the other end of the field and ran as one, diving to the ground in front of their own fans.

It was Italy’s second continental title after 1968, to add to the country’s four World Cups.

Wembley, the venue for all but one of England’s matches during this transcontinental competition, was not at full capacity because of pandemic guidelines. It was, however, packed with emotion, color, and noise — a welcome return to soccer madness after more than a year of precautions and small or nonexistent crowds.


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