Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Greatest Euro Matches: England-Italy, 2021

Euro 2020 did not take place in 2020: Due to the global Covid pandemic of 2020 the tournament had to be postponed to 2021. Additionally, led by the later-disgraced UEFA president Michel Platini, UEFA had decided that not one nation would host the tournament, but instead the tournament was to be hosted by 11 cities in 11 different countries to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the tournament. Even though the pandemic was in its wane, this caused enormous logistical problems as many countries still had restrictions about travel and assembly. 

The city chosen to host the final was London, and at the time of the final there were still many travel restrictions, another advantage for England who throughout the tournament that football would “be coming home”. 

England had reason to be optimistic, if not arrogant. Managed by former England player Gareth Southgate, he had taken England to the 2018 semifinals. The team surely counted with an extremely strong combination of experience and talent from the Premier League, perhaps the strongest league in the world. Jordan Pickford from Everton was in goal, behind Manchester City’s Kyle Walker, John Stones, Manchester United’s Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, as well as Atletico Madrid’s Kieran Tripper. Midfield included Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Manchester City’s Jack Grealish, but also some very talented youths such as West Ham’s Declan Rice, Manchester City’s Phil Foden, Chelsea’s Mason Mount, Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka and Borussia Dortmund’s Jude Bellingham and Jadon Sancho. Finally attack included the team’s captain and topscorer, Tottenham’s Harry Kane, Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling. 

England walked through qualification, scoring an impressive 37 goals in 8 matches, and only losing one match to the Czech Republic, but winning their group. Therefore expectations were high when they got into a group with Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic. Despite winning the group the side did not look impressive though: they defeated Croatia and Czechia, 1-0 in both case, and tied Scotland 0-0. Not many goals, but a strong defense. 

The first real test came in the last-16 when they faced their arch-rivals of Germany, defeating them 2-0 and really creating expectations about the title. In the quarterfinals England trashed Ukraine 4-0, and faced Denmark in the semifinals in a match that had to go into extra time and was only won after a controversial penalty that Harry Kane scored on the rebound

As they were to face Italy at home, England’s fans were almost prematurely celebrating as they were to face Italy at their legendary Wembley Stadium. 

Since winning the 2006 World Cup Italy had not impressed at World Cups. They had been eliminated at the group stages in 2010 and 2014 and had even failed to qualify to Russia 2018. Things had been a bit better in the European Championships as they had made the 2012 final, but were trashed by Spain. After the debacle in the 2018 qualification the former player Roberto Mancini, with ample experience in clubs such as Inter Milan and Manchester City, became manager. The goal was to qualify for the European championship, something he managed in style by winning ten out of ten matches, although the group had not looked too strong with runners-up Finland and Greece.

The squad was strong though and counted a talented young goalkeeper from AC Milan in Gianluigi Donnarumma. In defense the veteran captain from Juventus, Giorgio Chiellini, continued to play at an incredibly high level and complemented by strong players such as Alessandro Florenzi from Paris St. Germain, Lazio’s Francesco Acerbi, Napoli’s Giovanni di Lorenzo and Chelsea’s Emerson Palmieri. In midfield was the workhorse from Paris St. Germain, Marco Verrati, alongside Chelsea’s strong defensive midfielder Jorginho, including Inter’s Nicolo Barella, Juventus Federico Bernardeschi or Juventus Federico Chiesa. Strikers included Lazio’s Ciro Immobile, Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne and Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi. 

Italy looked strong from the start of the tournament: They won all their three matches, 3-0 over Turkey, 3-0 over Switzerland and 1-0 over Wales. They struggled to defeat a hard fighting Austrian side 2-1 after extra time in the last-16, but then played a great match to defeat the strong Belgians 2-1 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals they faced one of their archrivals, Spain, and won after penalty kicks to make it to the final against England. 

As it had been in the semifinals against Denmark they away fans were limited to Italians living in London, who faced a hostile English crowd who booed the Italian anthem and were insisting that “Football is coming home”. We were reminded of the worst of English fans; there were big fan troubles and English racism against their own players after the match had been lost. 

That said, it was the start of dreams for England: after two minutes Kieran Trippier passed the ball towards the far post where an unmarked Luke Shaw brought England ahead 1-0 on a half-volley. 

The fastest goal in a European Championship final. 

England were in ecstasy, but also appeared overly careful after the goal, and slowly Italy started to take over possession and get chances, but were kept away from big chances from Pickford and the defense. While England was leading at half-time it did not feel that the match was over, but that Italy would be hard to defeat. With two changes 10 minutes into the second half Italy continued to dominate possession, and one felt that Southgate, leading 1-0, was pulling back too much. After Italy steadily getting closer Italy finally scored. Following a corner kick Verrati hit the post, and Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci was there to pick-up the riposte. 

At 34 years of age, Bonucci remains the oldest player to have scored in a European Championship final. 

Italy continued dominating against an England side that looked almost afraid in how careful they were playing in front of their home crowd, and the match ended 1-1 after extra time as well. 

Gareth Southgate made changes in extra time that seemed to prepare for penalty kicks as he brought on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho in the 120th minute. At the score 1-1 on penalty kicks Andrea Belloti missed for England, and when Harry Maguire brought England ahead 2-1 it seemed that things were going England’s way. But following Bonucci’s goal, Marcus Rashford missed the goal entirely and score was 2-2. Following Bernardeschi bringing Italy ahead it was Jadon Sancho’s turn to miss when Donnarumma saved his shot, and suddenly the great Jorginho could make Italy champions, but a great Pickford saved. The last one to shoot for England was the young Bukayo Saka. He had to score, but his short was saved by Donnarumma, and Italy were champions of Europe for the second time since 1968

It was a big disappointment for England, but at least Football stayed home with Italy.  

London, 11th July 2021 Wembley Stadium 
Attendance: 67,173 
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers, Netherlands 

England-Italy 1-1 (AET) 
Penalty kicks: England-Italy 3-2 

England: Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, (Jadon Sancho, 120), John Stones, Harry Maguire; Kieran Trippier (Bukayo Saka, 71), Luke Shaw, Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice (Jordan Henderson, 74 (Marcus Rashford, 120)), Raheem Sterling, Mason Mount (Jack Grealish, 99); Harry Kane (c). Manager: Gareth Southgate 
Italy: Gianluigi Donnaruma; Giovanni Di Lorenzo, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini (c), Emerson Palmieri (Alessandro Florenzi, 118); Jorghinho, Nicolo Barella (Bryan Cristante, 54), Marco Verrati (Manuel Locatelli, 96); Federico Chiesa (Federico Bernardeschi, 86), Lorenzo Insigne (Andrea Belotti, 91), Ciro Immobile (Deomenico Berardi, 54). Manager: Roberto Mancini 

Goals:
1-0 Kyle Walker (2) 
1-1 Leonardo Bonucci (67) 

Penalty kicks:
1-1 Domenico Berardi 
1-1 Harry Kane 
Andrea Belloti missed for the Italy 
1-2 Harry Maguire 
2-2 Leonardo Bonucci 
Marcus Rashford missed for England 
2-3 Federico Bernardeshci 
Jadon Sancho missed for England 
Jorginho missed for Italy 
Bukayo Saka missed for England

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