It’s Coming Undone! England Collapses In Penalty Shootout To Commanding Italy

Surrounded by a reported 200,000 raucous fans in the Wembley area (and far more than the stated 60,000 inside the ground), Italy played spoiler in the Euro 2020 final at a level unseen since the Spartans pushed back the Persians at the Hot Gates.

Despite the crowd, despite a record-setting opener from England in terms of its speed and despite Jordan Pickford repelling two shots in the shootout, Italy — in typical Azzurri fashion — seemed to grow stronger with the more they suffered.  

Even though the match wasn’t scheduled to kick-off until 8:00 p.m. local time, fans queued in front of pubs in the morning and transformed Wembley into a festival ground.   

As is always the case with people getting absolutely steamed before noon, the later scenes weren’t always the most angelic.   

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Inside the ground, word filtered through that England manager Gareth Southgate was electing to change his shape to five at the back. The use of three center backs was seen as an acknowledgement of Italy’s midfield superiority, but Southgate said it was an attacking move. 

“Italy cause you a tactical problem, they’ve got a familiar way of playing, and it’s difficult to resolve,” Southgate told ITV Sport before the match. “We want to keep our attacking players a bit higher up, which we hope will cause them a problem on the counter. We need composure. We have to make good decisions on the field, to play with discipline, but also bring our best game. It’s not a day to be safe.”

With less than two minutes on the clock, Southgate’s decision proved a stroke of genius. 

Harry Kane’s contribution was a demonstration of what makes him one of the game’s most complete strikers. As he does so often with Spurs, Kane dropped deep to receive possession and picked the perfect pass out wide. Kieran Trippier found himself with space and — as Italy struggled to find it’s shape — an abundance of time. 

Going through his reads like a quarterback, Trippier eventually spotted the run of Shaw at the far post. The Manchester United fullback’s cool finish was brilliantly understated.  

The first half was an imposing display from the Three Lions, who looked more than up to the magnitude of the match. England’s midfield was showing no signs of struggling with Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolò Barella.  

The view of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips as agricultural water-carriers probably says more about our biases against players outside of England’s “big six” than it does their actual quality. Rice, in particular, looked like Yaya Touré in his prime.  

The second half began with a clear pattern: Italy attempted to pass England to death, whereas the Three Lions looked more than happy to sit in a low block with the three central defenders and two holding midfielders creating an effective shield.

But the pressure continued to build, and the Azzurri clearly felt something coming after a couple shots from Lorenzo Insigne and a fine Federico Chiesa effort that required a good save from Pickford.

Chiesa had been Italy’s driving force in the first half, and he created the corner kick that led to his side’s equalizer with a dangerous cross that Harry Maguire was forced to head behind.

The corner yielded a madcap of events — including Pickford pushing a Verratti header against the inside of the post — but Leonardo Bonucci was there for the rebound. 

England struggled to readapt it’s approach, whereas Italy kept playing some fine football in the attacking half. Ian Darke accurately labelled the mood inside Wembley as one of “collective neurosis.” Maybe the hangover had already arrived. 

But by the arrival of the full-time whistle, it looked like neither side had much left in the tank. Southgate had made only two substitutions during regular time, so there was the thought that the English had more in reserve than the Italians — especially since Chiesa was forced off with an injury. 

Things roared into life in the second period of extra time after Bernardeschi forced Pickford into an awkward save before Donnarumma went scrambling off his line to repel a dangerous cross in a forest of bodies, but neither side could find the breakthrough.

Domenico Berardi converted the opening penalty for Italy, but Kane responded for England. Andrea Belotti stepped up for Italy, but Pickford saved.  

It was Maguire’s turn for England, and he blasted his attempt into the top corner. 2-1 England heading into the third round.

It was Italy’s hero in regular time, Leonardo Bonucci, who converted Italy’s next attempt, and then Marcus Rashford ended England’s advantage after his stuttering run-up led to a shot off the post.

To start the fourth round, Bernardeschi made it 3-2, and then Jadon Sancho had his low effort saved by Donnarumma. 

Italy now had a chance to win it through the penalty master Jorginho, but Pickford provided a moment of inspiration to keep Wembley’s dream alive. 

19-year-old Bukayo Saka then needed to convert to send us into the sixth round…

Cue delirium for Italy and its small pocket of support. Bonucci got in the camera and screamed “It’s coming to Rome! It’s coming to Rome!” 

For England, it’s a crushing end for a group that's once again delivered (a first-ever Euro final) without truly delivering.

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