A Mancini Masterpiece! Italy Conquer Wembley to Clinch Euro 2020 Throne

It’s coming to Rome!!!

Leonardo Bonucci’s wild shout into a TV camera as tension unfolded and celebration kicked off was the sum up of the Azzurri‘s dream night. They did it. Italy beat England on penalties, conquering their Wembley fort at the end of an exhausting 120-minute battle and engraving their name on the Henri Delaunay Trophy for the second time in history.

Italy won Euro 2020. Even only writing it three years ago would have sounded absurd. The last time the Azzurri faced England, back in March 2018, the Three Lions were preparing to play in the World Cup. Italy were going to watch the tournament from home and they had hit rock bottom after failing to qualify for the Russian competition. They needed to restart from scratch.

Enter a man from Jesi, in the Marche Region. Roberto Mancini accepted the challenge. Mancio had a decent pedigree as a club coach but few could expect he would turn the tides of calcio so fast. Thirty-four games with no losses and still counting. A national team that plays well and is not afraid to attack. And now, the European title – which Italians had been waiting for since 1968. 

Mancini brought Italy back to the rank of a European and World football powerhouse. Where it belongs.  

The battle of Wembley, the final showdown of Euro 2020, was neither an easy nor a spectacular one. Both sides were tired, as it can be expected at the end of such a long tournament and a season compressed by COVID. England enjoyed the support of more than 60000 roaring fans and that helped them to a stunning start that propelled Luke Shaw’s lightning-fast opener.

That could have paved the way to disaster, but little by little the Azzurri picked themselves up and organized their resistance. Leonardo Bonucci’s equalizer was the result of an intelligent possession-based strategy that resulted in few scoring chances but slowly put the Three Lions to the ropes.

In the end, the penalty shootout favored once again the Azzurri, with Gianluigi Donnarumma ascending to the rank of national hero. Across the 1990s, penalties were Italy’s nemesis – the mean by which they bowed out of three World Cups in a row. But the curse is long broken now as Italy’s last two international trophies came at the end of a thrilling shootout. 

There were no surprises among the Azzurri lines on Sunday night as the same XI who edged out Spain in the Semi Finals was confirmed. Earlier in the day, rumors circulated about Mancini considering to deploy Lorenzo Insigne or even Federico Bernardeschi as a falso nueve. In the end, Mancio stayed loyal to his trusted lineup and Ciro Immobile retained his spot in the center of the attack. 

Gareth Southgate, on the other hand, switched to a back-three defense with Kieran Trippier lined up in place of Bukayo Saka. The Atletico Madrid man acted as a right wingback in a 3-4-3 setup where Harry Kane, Mason Mount, and Raheem Sterling spearheaded the attack. Phil Foden picked up a foot injury earlier in the week and was not included in the squad.

England’s start was relentless. The Three Lions attacked with all the fury and the hunger coming from a 55-year abstinence from trophies and the unique chance of breaking the drought right on home soil. They were quick to open a breach into the Azzurri‘s lines.

Two minutes into the game, Trippier whipped the ball to left side and Luke Shaw appeared out of nowhere to fire it past Gianluigi Donnarumma. Italy’s defense were guarding Kane and Sterling to prevent them from heading the ball home but paid no attention to the Man United fullback. A shocking start.

Italy struggled to reorganize themselves, with Giovanni Di Lorenzo appearing to suffer on the right back position. England’s fury lasted 20 minutes, after which Southgate’s side inevitably had to catch their breath and slow down the tempo. Giorgio Chiellini latched on Kane like a leech and neutralized the Tottenham ace. The Three Lions switched to “defend the lead” mode.

The Azzurri, however, lacked ideas. Many times during the first half hour they were seen passing the ball back and restarting as they had no options. Tightly marked by Southgate’s defenders, Ciro Immobile appeared clueless on the front line. Italy’s only threatening effort came from a Lorenzo Insigne set piece that crashed above the crossbar.

Mancini was nervous and was seen preaching Federico Chiesa on how to be more dangerous. The Juventus winger did listen to him and, on 34 minutes, finally unchained his left foot strike but the ball whistled out of the goal target.

The first half was an anything but memorable affair but Italy had to see the glass half full: They survived the English’s early assault without suffering further damage. And Jorginho, who seemed ready to leave the pitch after picking up a knee injury, somehow managed to continue.

The second half opened with Raheem Sterling offering another sample of his diving skills. It had pretty much worked against Denmark, but referee Bjorn Kuipers didn’t want to hear it this time. On the other side of the pitch, Insigne gained a free kick from the edge of the box. His curling effort once again failed to hit the target.

On 54 minutes, coach Mancini went all in and played the falso nueve card: Off went a disappointing Immobile and in came Domenico Berardi. On top of that, Bryan Cristante replaced a nervous Nicolò Barella, who had just been booked.

Jordan Pickford was called to action on 61 minutes and showed what he’s got with a brilliant save to defuse Chiesa’s sharp shot from inside the box. The Juve man also acted as a provider: On 65 minutes, he drove the ball into the middle of the English area but Insigne is not exactly the most appropriate one to head from a cross.

From the subsequent corner, however, the Azzurri had their equalizer: It was Leo Bonucci to push the ball into the back of the net, tapping in from a Pickford save to finalize a chaotic action into the Three Lions’ box.

On 70 minutes, Southgate’s experiment was over as Bukayo Saka replaced Trippier. It was soon followed by another change with Jordan Henderson taking Declan Rice’s place.

Italy were now in control: Berardi was picked up with a perfectly-timed long range cross and volleyed the ball past the English goalkeeper, but once again the aim should have been better. Still, the Azzurri seemed on the right track. Their ball possession turned from sterile into intimidating. There was no time to do any damage, however, as the game went to extra time.

Before that, there were bad news for Mancini as Chiesa picked up an ankle injury. He gritted his teeth for a few minutes but eventually had to make room for his teammate Federico Bernardeschi. The coach’s next change, right before the extra time kick off, was Andrea Belotti for Lorenzo Insigne.

In the extra times, it all came down to who had more fuel in the tank. And both sides had little left, to be honest. The English were the first to give it a try as a Kalvin Phillips right-foot effort sailed wide of Donnarumma’s back post. Italy answered with an Emerson Palmieri cross that called Pickford to a courageous intervention to anticipate Bernardeschi’s tap in by a split second.

The second extra time offered little to record, except for the full stadium – Italian and English fans alike – singing and dancing on the notes of Freed from Desire. Just beautiful.

Euro 2020 had to be decided on penalties and Italy knew they had an advantage in Donnarumma being a better penalty saver than his counterpart. Still, the shootout was an absolute thriller. Gareth Southgate had sent in Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho just before full time to use their penalty taking skills but was betrayed by both. For Italy, it was Belotti to see his shot saved.

Italy went into the last penalty round ahead 3-2 but Pickford miraculously saved specialist Jorginho’s attempt, deflecting the ball into the post and then blocking it right on the goal line. Phew! And so, it was up to Gigio Donnarumma’s big hands to get the job done for Italy as he pushed back Saka’s last shot for the English.  

The redemption was complete. Roberto Mancini took a team and a country in pieces – from a calcio point of view – and lifted them up to the European trophy. This might be just the beginning. But for now, let the Italian fans just enjoy the celebration. Football is coming to Rome. And we missed it so much. 



July 11, 2021 – European Championship 2020 Final
ITALY-ENGLAND 1-1 after extra time, 3-2 on penalties

SCORERS: 2′ Shaw (E), 66′ Bonucci (I)

PENALTY SEQUENCE: Berardi (I) goal, Kane (E) goal, Belotti (I) saved, Maguire (E) goal, Bonucci (I) goal, Rashford (E) post, Bernardeschi (I) goal, Sancho (E) saved, Jorginho (I) saved, Saka (E) saved

ITALY (4-3-3): Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (117′ Florenzi); Barella (54′ Cristante), Jorginho, Verratti (95′ Locatelli); Chiesa (84′ Bernardeschi), Immobile (54′ Berardi), Insigne (90′ Belotti) (Sirigu, Meret, Bastoni, Acerbi, Toloi, Pessina) Coach: Mancini
ENGLAND (3-4-3): Pickford; Walker (119′ Sancho), Maguire, Stones; Trippier (70′ Saka), Phillips, Rice (73′ Henderson, 119′ Rashford), Shaw; Sterling, Mount (98′ Grealish), Kane (Johnstone, Ramsdale, Coady, James, Mings, Bellingham, Calvert-Levin) Coach: Southgate

REFEREE: Kuipers (Netherlands)
NOTES: Yellow Cards: Barella, Bonucci, Insigne, Chiellini, Jorginho (I), Maguire (E); Added Time: 1st Half 4′, 2nd Half 6′, 1st Extra Time: 1′, 2nd Extra Time: 3′