“It’s coming home. It’s coming home”, this is the chant that had been sounded in the English camp for the last 40 days. Even before Euro 2020 kicked off, the English fans were excited, they were confident that this new English squad, with their heroics in World Cup 2018 in Russia, their 3rd place finish in the UEFA Nations League and the good results produced in recent times by coach Gareth Southgate would work as catalysts to achieve the English dream, to win the European Championship at home in Wembley, the same place where they won the World Cup in 1966.
Annoying and disrespectful attitude of English fans towards opposition countries and their fans led to a sense of disgust and hatred among fans from the rest of the world. Most of Europe supported Italy in this final clash hoping to avoid any chance of English glory. But by the end of the penalty shoot-out in the final, Italy were crowned champions and England were denied silverware again. Despair and anger surrounded the English fans leading to a lot of violent incidents between the fans across London. But then again, the night ended with Italy raising the trophy and taking their place as the rightful kings of Europe.
The stage was set at the famous Wembley Stadium in London for a clash of the titans. Italy and England both on a quest to become European Champions. Around 60,000 fans were seated in this historic arena to witness the finale of an entertaining month of football with teams across the continent putting forward their bid in 12 different cities which led to this match-up on the ultimate stage.
The tournament had already witnessed some heartbreaking moments, some moments of magic as well as shock. May it be, Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen’s collapse on the pitch or the unexpected performances from the Swiss and Czech sides or favorites Portugal and France bowing out early, a dominating display from a young Spanish side or the Danes making an amazing run to the semifinals. This tournament gave us every reason to love the beautiful game.
Talking about the more favorable of the two teams, England had played five out of their six matches at the Wembley in front of home supporters. They faced Croatia, Czech Republic and Scotland in the group stage, where they easily topped the group with seven points thanks to forward Raheem Sterling. They pulled off a historic win against arch rivals Germany in the Round of 16 with goals from Sterling and captain Harry Kane. They then travelled to Rome for a quaterfinal fixture against surprise package Ukraine. They easily passed this challenge thanks to a brace from Kane.
The semifinal saw them facing the team that inspired the world, Denmark, their star player Eriksen suffered cardiac arrest in their first match, but they still managed to make it out of the group and went ahead to beat Wales and Czech Republic in the knockouts before making their way to Wembley. Denmark got an early lead from a freekick by the young Damsgaard. But soon the score was level by an own goal from Danish captain Simon Kjaer who had been phenomenal in the entire tournament. In extra-time, England were awarded a controversial penalty, which was saved by keeper Kasper Schmeichel but put in on rebound by Harry Kane. The English dream was closer than ever as Gareth Southgate’s side became the first in 55 years to represent England in a major tournament final and the first ever time in a European Championship final.
But their counterparts, Italy were equally impressive. The Azzuri had missed out on qualification for the World Cup in Russia three years ago. Since then they have been amazing under former Italian legend, ‘Don’ Roberto Mancini. He has revolutionized the Italian playing style, switching from the traditional three men defensive backline to a possession based style with a back-line of four. He had already shown the exit to legends like Gigi Buffon and Daniele de Rossi and brought in a younger squad. Italy topped the group with victories against Turkey, Wales and Switzerland to face Austria in the knockouts. After a goal-less 90 minutes, the deadlock was broken by substitute Federico Chiesa, and the lead was doubled 10 minutes later by Pessina. This was more than enough to book Italy a place in the quaterfinals against Belgium, who had just arrived after beating defending champions, Portugal.
The match in Munich saw Italy excel on all corners of the pitch and beating the favorites thanks to goals from Barella and Insigne. But the real challenge for Italy awaited in the semis versus Luis Enrique’s Spain. Quite similar in a lot of ways, these two teams faced off in Wembley. Goals from Chiesa and Spanish substitute Alvaro Morata ensured that the game would head to extra-time. Through out the entire 120 minutes Spain were the better side and their style of play ensured that the Italians struggled to get out of their own half. Individual brilliance from keeper Donnarumma paved the way for Italy to book their place in the final.
After such a great tournament, the final would be no different. Gareth Southgate’s England took an early lead in the second minute through a tight finish from left-back Luke Shaw. Wembley erupted in joy and the English fan were ecstatic.
Their chants of “It’s coming home” were echoing everywhere. After that early lead, England held back, with Italy holding most of the possession. Italians were looking for an opening, trying everything to go back on level terms. It was finally in the 67th minute that Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci found the back of the net from a loose ball off Marco Veratti’s header. But after that, the match was evenly tied with neither of the teams getting the golden goal. Extra-time was no different, the nerve wrenching 120 minutes came to an end.
For only the second time in competition’s history, the champion would be decided on penalties. Italy went first with Berardi taking the first kick, blasting it in. In reply, captain Harry Kane found the bottom corner giving England an extra bit of hope and inspiration. The next shooter for Italy would be Andrea Belloti who was denied by Jordan Pickford. Harry Maguire had the chance to capitalize and take the lead for England, and so he did. The goalscorer Bonucci converted the next one. Up next for England was young Marcus Rashford who sent the keeper the wrong way but ended up hitting the post. It was a moment of shock and disbelief for England. With scores level again, the experienced Bernardeschi stepped up to take the pen, the Juve player easily found the net, advantage Italy. Young English sensation, Jadon Sancho was up next. His spot-kick was saved by Donnarumma and Italy were on the cusp of victory. Chelsea midfielder Jorginho was next. One of the best penalty takers in the world, it was surprising to see him hit the woodwork and miss the chance to be the hero for Italy. Arsenal man, 19 year-old Bukayo Saka was the last penalty taker for England with the hopes of the entire nation on his shoulders. Donnarumma made the correct jump and saved Saka’s shot. Italy were champions, 1-1 after extra time and a 3-2 victory on penalties meant that Italy were champions of Europe. After the longest interval in European football of 53 years, Italian captain Giorgio Chiellieni lifted the Henri Delaunay trophy. It was a night to remember for the Azzuri and one that will go down in the history books.