In the intoxicating buildup to the European Championship final Sunday, the soccer world was overrun by tales of England and Wembley Stadium, of the Three Lions, Harry Kane and 55 years of English heartache in major tournaments.
There was, however, a second team seeking redemption of very different kinds, a blue-clad Italian squad that happened to have played some of the finest soccer over the month-long spectacle.
The setting and the start swayed England’s way, but as a tense affair in northwest London uncoiled — from a 1-1 draw through 90 minutes of regulation and 30 of extra time to an extraordinary penalty-kick tiebreaker — Italy extended English misery and celebrated its first continental crown since 1968.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, a 22-year-old goalkeeper, made two saves and another English attempt hit the post as the Azzurri prevailed, 3-2, in a shootout.
Italy also made amends for missing the World Cup in 2018, one of the program’s darkest moments after four global crowns, most recently in 2006.
“We had the disappointment of [missing] the World Cup, but you always need to believe, you always need to strive for the top, and you must never give up,” said defender Leonardo Bonucci, who scored the tying goal in the second half. “This is a renaissance for Italian football.”
It was a gutting blow to English football. Appearing in its first European final, England was seeking its first major trophy since it won the World Cup at home in 1966.
“The balloon is burst, and the feeling around the country will be very empty, I know,” Coach Gareth Southgate said. “That’s hard for everybody to take. We wanted to give everybody one more night that would continue the biggest party ever. We haven’t been able to do that, but I hope we’ve given everybody some incredible memories.”
England’s Jordan Pickford made two saves in the tiebreaker, including in the fifth round, which kept his team’s hopes alive. However, Donnarumma dived to his left to stop a bid by 19-year-old Bukayo Saka to clinch the title.
It was his second consecutive save; he went in the same direction to thwart Jadon Sancho’s attempt. Earlier, Marcus Rashford hit the post in the first of three straight misses by England.
Southgate took responsibility for the shooters, saying it was “my call. That’s my decision. That’s not down to the players. We know they were the best takers left on the pitch.”
England has never beaten Italy in a major tournament. The Azzurri extended their unbeaten streak to 34 matches, spanning more than 2½ years and one short of the record shared by Brazil and Spain.
“We are very happy for Italians everywhere,” Coach Roberto Mancini said, “because we really have given them a wonderful month of success and joy.”