Italy are European champions for the second time in their history after prevailing in a penalty shootout win over England at Wembley.
Gareth Southgate’s team selection raised several eyebrows before kick-off, with Kieran Tripper restored to the starting line-up at the expense of Bukayo Saka, which heralded a return to the 3-4-3 system which worked so well against Germany at the last 16 stage.
It was a decision that took less than two minutes to pay-off, however, with Trippier latching onto Harry Kane’s quick switch of play and crossing to his opposite wing-back Luke Shaw, who beat Gianluigi Donnarumma with a crisp left-footed volley from the edge of the six-yard box.
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It was the Manchester United left-back’s first goal for his country and, at 1min 57 seconds, the fastest ever in a European Championship final, representing the ideal start for England.
Italy were understandably rocked by that early setback and struggled to come to terms with England’s relentless pressing, while Kane was a constant nuisance and unsettled the Azzurri’s tower of power Giorgio Chiellini.
Despite their shaky start, the visitors to Wembley still carried a threat, particularly through Federico Chiesa. The Juventus forward has been one of the stars of the tournament and came within a foot of drawing his team level 10 minutes before the break with a rasping low drive from distance which had Jordan Pickford well beaten.
Italy, befitting of a side that hadn’t tasted defeat for three years, regained their composure during the latter stages of the opening period and the half-time whistle was greeted with relief, as much as jubilation by the Wembley crowd.
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The opening exchanges of the second period saw Italy start on the front foot, with Lorenzo Insigne twice threatening the England goal from distance, but the Three Lions held firm with Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips snapping into tackles and covering every blade of grass. Isigne then forced Pickford into his first serious save of the match, with the England keeper doing well to repel the Napoli star’s thumping drive from a narrow angle.The Everton No.1 did even better moments later, diving to low to his left to deny Chiesa whose ability to run at pace with the ball was causing real problems to a flagging England side.
And it was no surprise when Leonardo Bonucci forced the equaliser in the 67th minute after Jordan Pickford could only tip Marco Verratti’s header onto the post after England failed to deal with an Italy corner.
Southgate reacted by brining on Bukayo Saka and Jordan Henderson for Trippier and Rice, but England struggled to gain a foothold, despite a change of shape.
A grueling period of extra-time passed off, aside from Jorginho’s horrific challenge on Jack Grealish, largely without incident as both teams made substitutions in a desperate attempt to find a winning goal which never materialised.
The match, almost inevitably went to a shootout which Italy won after costly misses from Marucs Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka.
Photo Credit: Getty