In the end, it had to be penalties. After a tournament of endless emotions and heart-stopping action, 66,000 fans in attendance at Wembley witnessed a fitting finale that saw Italy beat England on penalties to win the 2020 European Championships by the barest of margins. Luke Shaw’s early goal was cancelled out by Leonardo Bonucci in the second half before Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved three English penalties – from Rashford, Sancho and Saka – to hand the Azzurri their first European Championships title since 1968.
While Italy emerged as eventual winners of this thrilling final, it was England who dominated the early stages of the game on the back of their home support.
Gareth Southgate switched to a back three for this all-important final and that strategy worked perfectly in the early stages with both wing-backs combining for the opening goal. Harry Kane released Kieran Trippier down the right-hand side who played an inch-perfect cross for Luke Shaw at the back post with the left-wing-back poking it past Gianluigi Donnarumma in goal to give England the early lead inside three minutes.
All the momentum was with the Three Lions in the early periods but Italy grew into the contest as the game wore on, with Jorginho and Marco Verratti helping the Azzurri regain control in midfield. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have been rampant so far in the tournament – with seven goals between them – but both forwards were completely outclassed on the night thanks to a masterclass from the veteran Italian centre-back duo of Chiellini and Bonucci.
Italy shifted through the gears in the second half with Federico Chiesa, in particular, causing plenty of problems for the English defence and forcing Jordan Pickford into a fine save down to his right. Roberto Mancini’s side eventually levelled the scores in the 67th minute from a corner with Leonardo Bonucci capitalizing on a goal-mouth scramble to tap the ball into the back of the net.
Gareth Southgate switched to a back four and brought on Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish in search of the winning goal, but neither side was able to find that moment of magic needed to win the final.
On to penalties we go.
Domenico Berardi and Harry Kane made no mistakes with the first two spot kicks before England drew first blood in the shootout after Jordan Pickford saved Andrea Belotti’s feeble attempt. Harry Maguire consolidated England’s lead with a rocket of a strike into the top corner, putting the Three Lions only 3 converted spot-kicks away from victory.
Unfortunately for England, both Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho – who were brought on in the last minute to take penalties – failed to convert their spot-kicks and handed the initiative back to the Azzurri. However, there was to be one more twist in the tale as Jordan Pickford came back to rescue England with an excellent save to his right from Jorginho to keep the Three Lions in the contest.
Unfortunately, for the England fans inside Wembley, the ecstasy soon turned into agony as 19-year-old Bukayo Saka’s penalty was nonchalantly saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma, handing Italy the victory and prolonging England’s 55-year long wait for a major trophy.