Italy's team celebrates with the trophy on the podium after winning the Euro 2020 soccer championship final between England and Italy at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. Courtesy AP

English football fans will have to wait a little longer for a major trophy after Italy beat England to win the European soccer championship on Sunday.

After a grueling 120 minutes plus extra time, Italy became the first country to ever win two penalty shootouts in a European championship, as they outlasted England 3-2 in the lottery.

In a drama and tension filled night at Wembley stadium, where the English made their first finals appearance in a major football championship since the 1966 world cup, excited fans filled the stadium to almost full capacity, some illegally according to reputable journalists, hours before the game. They didn’t have long to wait for their trouble.

In the second minute, England opened the scoring through impressive Manchester United left back Luke Shaw. Kieran Trippier, on for Bukayo Saka, crossed the ball from the right wing for Luke Shaw to blast home from 10 yards. The English were ecstatic. Their surprise move to a 3-4-3 had caught the Italians off guard, and Italian fullback Emerson struggled all first half to deal with Kieran Trippier.

After the goal, the English settled back to defend and hit on the counter. Italians had majority of sterile possession, keeping the ball but never threatening the goal. Indeed, it was not until the 43rd minute that Marco Veratti would hit a shot on target and test England goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford. The English ended the half very comfortably.

After the second half, the Italians tried to increase their urgency and threat on goal. The English kept retreating more and more to defense. At the 54th minute, the Italian coach Roberto Mancini made his first substitutions. Off came Nicola Barella and Ciro Immobile, and on came Bryan Christante and Domenico Berardi. Ciro had a poor game, and the Italians moved to a false nine formations with Lorenzo Insigne as the striker.

The English manager, Gareth Southgate, didn’t react to these substitutions, and in the 67th minute, he was made to pay for his timidity. Italy won a corner on the right, and the 34-year-old defender Leonardo Bonucci bundled the ball home after Pickford had punched out a Marco Veratti header off the line. The Italians were level, and it was fully deserved.

Southgate finally made some changes in the 70th minute, removing Kieran Trippier for Bukayo Saka and soon after, the outstanding Declan Rice for Jordan Henderson. And yet, the pattern of the game didn’t change. England was being outplayed, with Raheem Sterling their biggest threat. Indeed, he nearly won a penalty near the end, as Italian defenders Chiellini and Bonucci looked to push him in the penalty box.

In the 86th minute, the outstanding Federico Chiesa was subbed off for Italy with a troublesome ankle. He was the game’s outstanding player, and with him off, the Italians became less dangerous. The game went into extra time tied 1-1, and both teams made more substitutions to bring fresh legs into the game. Italians would have known that no team had ever won two penalty shootouts in a European championship, yet they had no urgency to win the game in extra time.

They kept passing the ball around, and the English were content to also seat back and wait for the penalties. The biggest threat came when Bukayo Saka won the ball near the half way line, and Italian centre back, Giorgio Chiellini, who knew he wouldn’t stop him, hauled him back for a professional foul and got a yellow card. The extra time fizzled out without either team looking like scoring a goal. Both teams were more afraid of conceding a late goal. England manager brought on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho in the 120th minute for Jordan Henderson and Kyle Walker, ostensibly for the penalty shootout. It would prove to be a calamitous decision, as these penalty shootout highlights show.

The referee blew the whistle for end of the game, and it would thus be decided on penalties. The Italians won the coin toss and got to take the first penalty. Domenico Berardi made no mistake and scored it. Harry Kane did the same for England, and it was tied, 1-1. Italian striker Andrea Belotti, who has looked woeful all tournament and hasn’t scored a single goal, took the second one, and his effort was well saved by Jordan Pickford. Harry Maguire scored the second for the English, and it looked like it was coming home as they took a 2-1 lead.

Leonardo Bonucci scored the third penalty for the Italians, and it was then Rashford’s turn. On in the last second of the game purely for his penalty taking, he stuttered as he took his penalty. However, wily Italian goalkeeper Donnarumma didn’t commit to either side, and Rashford placed the ball with less power. He was inches wide, hitting the right side of the post. Italy was level. Federico Bernadeschi blasted his penalty in. Jadon Sancho took the fourth penalty for England, and he also missed.

Suddenly, the Italians were in control. Jorginho, one of the best penalty takers in the world, stepped up to score and win the shootout for Italy. He has a similar technique to Rashford, stuttering in his run up, and waiting for the goalkeeper to dive one side, then shooting the ball in the other direction. However, Pickford had done his homework. Just like Donnarumma before him, he didn’t commit, and Jorginho hit a poor penalty that was comfortably saved.

Who would take the fifth penalty for England and equalize the shootout? Up stepped 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, with the likes of Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling nowhere to be seen. Donnarumma comfortably saved his spot kick, and the Italians were crowned champions, having scored three penalties to England’s two.

Thus ended the tournament. In premium tears for English fans. The English made their first final since 1966, but ultimately their manager’s late substitutions, meekness during the game and overall defensive strategy failed to pay off, as the Italians equalized and won a game they rarely looked like losing despite conceding in the second minute. It is a final and a tournament that will live long in the memory.

I clinched first place in the maudhui league with 356 points, a cool 30 points ahead of my nearest challenger. It was great fun playing this fantasy competition! Check out the final standings here.

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