Euro 2020: Azzurri back with a bang

Italian players celebrate with the trophy. Photo: Reuters

Italy prevailed over England in a penalty shootout after a gripping final to be crowned champions of Europe for the second time and end a long wait of 53 years. The Azzurri had to thank their goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma as he saved two from the spot as curtains came down on one of the most exciting editions of the tournament.

The Italian triumph was a testimony to their mental strength and ability to bounce back as they pipped England in front of a packed Wembley Stadium. England had gone ahead as early as the second minute with the fastest goal in a European Championship final, but Roberto Mancini's men kept fighting and slowly took control of the game. Their efforts bore fruit in the 67th minute as Leonardo Bonucci drew level off a corner.

The Italians became the first team to win two penalty shootouts in a single edition of the Euro and Donnarumma had a big role in it. Just as he did in the win over Spain in the semifinals, the giant keeper kept his calm as Italy broke the hearts of the English who were eyeing a maiden European crown and a second major title after 55 years.

The Azzurri had even failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. But Italy is a proud footballing nation and they have proved it yet again. Mancini's men, who are on a national record 34-match unbeaten run, played an attractive brand of football. However, they were also willing to win ugly as they showed in the semifinal clash against Spain and in the early part of the final. Old warhorses Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci were rock solid in the Italian backline, while young forward Federico Chiesa was one of the standout performers.

Roberto Mancini
Italy head coach Roberto Mancini has every reason to be proud of his team. Photo: Reuters

As for England, it was a case of so near and yet so far. But Gareth Southgate's side could be proud of becoming the first England team to enter a major final after 1966. They outplayed arch-rivals Germany in the round of 16 before demolishing Ukraine in the quarterfinals. The Three Lions edged the Danes 2-1 in extra time in the semifinals before being pipped by the Azzurri in the summit clash. Southgate though would be disappointed with his choice of penalty takers in the shootout. He would have been better off going with experienced players at the crunch.

England fell at the final hurdle. Photo: Reuters

England conceded just two goals in the competition while Raheem Sterling was simply outstanding up front. England have been consistent under Southgate and they could be one of the genuine title contenders in next year's FIFA World Cup. 

The losing semifinalists Spain and Denmark showed plenty of resolve to get better as the tournament progressed. Luis Enrique's Spanish side is one of the teams to watch out for in Qatar 2022. It's predominantly a young side with a lot of quality players. However, the absence of a top-class striker meant the Spaniards did not have many goals to show for their efforts and possession.

Denmark captured the imagination of the football lovers. Photo: AFP

The Danes bounced back after attacking midfielder Christian Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest in their opening group game against Finland. They went on to lose the game 0-1 to the debutants and came second best to Belgium in their next match before staging a superb comeback against Russia in their final group fixture. The 1992 champions thrashed Wales 4-0 and saw off the Czech Republic 2-1 to set up a semifinal clash with England. The Scandinavians put up a spirited performance before going down to the hosts in extra time at Wembley.

Switzerland's win over world champions France in the round of 16 on penalties after a thoroughly enjoyable 3-3 draw was the upset of the tournament. The Swiss rallied splendidly after trailing 1-3 with only 15 minutes to go. It's fair to say France never played to their potential in the competition. But the French team oozes class and they will be confident of defending their title in Qatar.

Switzerland players celebrate their upset win over France. Photo: AFP

The Czechs sent the fancied Dutch packing 2-0 in the round of 16. The Netherlands, who returned to a major event after seven years, had dazzled in the opening round. But a moment of madness from key defender Matthijs de Ligt cost the Dutch dearly as they were reduced to 10 men early in the second half.

Defending champions Portugal, France and Germany progressed from Group F branded the Group of Death. But all three sides failed to get past the round of 16. Portugal were once again too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo before being sent home by Belgium.

Joachim Loew
Joachim Loew's final campaign as German coach ended with a whimper. Photo: Reuters

Germany failed to set the stage on fire for the second successive major championship. In fact the Germans were lucky to avoid a first round elimination after escaping with a 2-2 draw against Hungary. However, they were outclassed by England and Joachim Loew's final campaign as German coach ended with a whimper.

The Belgians again flattered to deceive before crashing out to Italy in the quarterfinals. Time is running out for Belgium's golden generation and their coach Roberto Martinez. Qatar 2022 could well be their final chance to set the record straight.

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