England’s attempt to end their 55-year wait for a major trophy ended in the familiar agony of penalty shootout defeat as Italy claimed the Euro 2020 crown at Wembley.
On a night of anticipation, tension and ultimate heartbreak in a feverish atmosphere, England looked on course for their most joyous day since July 30, 1966, when Luke Shaw gave them the perfect start after two minutes.
Italy, unbeaten in 33 games for this final, slowly came back into the game, leveling in the 67th minute as Leonardo Bonucci sprang in after England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford turned Marco Verratti’s header off the post.
And after no winner was found in a tense period of extra time, penalties followed and bitter disappointment for England manager Gareth Southgate and his players, who entered the final with a wave of anticipation and high emotion.
England missed three of their five penalties, Marcus Rashford hit a post and Gianluigi Donnarumma previously denied Jadon Sancho – so cruel for such a fine young player – Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka also saw the giant Italy goalkeeper save his penalty.
Harry Kane and Harry Maguire were on target for England, while Pickford kept hopes alive with saves from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, while Domenico Berardi, Bonucci and Federico Bernardeschi scored for Italy.
The tearful 19-year-old Saka, who showed such courage to step forward, was comforted by England team-mates and manager Southgate, but there was no real consolation for them or the would-be fans packed into Wembley.
England fall short as Italy triumph England’s years of pain continue, but the opening 30 minutes of this final seemed like the moment the country had waited over 20,000 days for had finally arrived.
Southgate’s side shot out of the blocks and the only manager change to replace Saka with Kieran Trippier paid an instant dividend as he ran to Kane’s perfect pass to find the onrushing Shaw at the far post and he hit an emphatic finish past Donnarumma .
England were on the move, urging on by a huge, frenzied crowd to put this talented, streetwise Italian side on the back foot until they suddenly found a foothold in the closing stages of the first half.
Italy dominated possession, England lost their momentum and it was no surprise when they restored parity and looked like the most likely winners as Southgate’s side, which had been so busy early on, began to toil, especially after losing the excellent Declan Rice lost by a tap.
Southgate surprisingly waited until extra time to introduce Jack Grealish, but by then the game was on course for penalties and it showed.
He introduced Sancho and Rashford in the closing moments, presumably awaiting penalties, but unfortunately for Southgate, who have been so right at Euro 2020, this was a move that didn’t pay off as both failed on their spot kicks.
Pickford performed heroism to save two penalties, but he was also left in tears after England’s fate was sealed.
Italy crossed the line and both Southgate and his players looked devastated as they received a sympathetic round of applause from England fans, who had arrived with such high hopes but left Wembley with their dreams of a big trophy shattered once again.
England came close when they reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in Moscow in 2018, but this loss is set to deepen after they progressed so smoothly into the final and had the chance to finally claim a second trophy in what is essentially a home was tournament culminating at Wembley.
They have made progress, but England were unable to clear the last hurdle. England improving offers real hope England’s loss will be felt deeply after such impressive progress through the knockout stages with victories against Germany, Ukraine and Denmark.
Southgate are now dealing with whether he was right in the final when it came to his approach, substitutions and penalties, but once the dust settles, England can reflect on the progress made.
England went a step further than Russia and Southgate now has a potent mix of youth and experience to work with as he charts a course for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Saka came of age in this tournament, while England have exciting youngsters in the form of Sancho, Phil Foden, Mason Mount and Jude Bellingham, complemented by Grealish.
Raheem Sterling had had a stellar campaign, Kane showed flashes of his world-class ability and the central defending pair John Stones and Maguire were solid. Pickford also made an excellent contribution in goal.
This won’t be comforting in the hours after such a devastating loss, but England can at least move forward optimistically.
Italy worthy winners As Italy’s players and staff feasted in front of their cheering fans, manager Roberto Mancini had to think about excellent work, crowning their 34th unbeaten match with the Euro 2020 title.
Mancini has put together an impressive mix of youth and experience, and at the back he can still rely on those two old warhorses from Juventus and Italy, Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, as enduring as ever, despite a combined age of 70 years.
Italy proved their pedigree with knockout wins over Belgium and Spain and were unfazed by a thunderous Wembley full of England fans.
And all after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, which was considered a national sporting humiliation. Now Italy is back as the winners of Euro 2020, a testament to the work of Mancini and his players. Italy puts an end to a long wait – the statistics