Italy Wins Euro 2020, Leaving England in Stunned Silence
LONDON – There had been noise all day. The songs had started early in the morning, as the first hundred fans appeared on Wembley Way, flags waving behind their backs. They echoed throughout the afternoon, as first tens and then hundreds of thousands more joined them, as broken glass creaked underfoot.
The songs started as soon as the train doors opened at Wembley Park tube station, the anthems to Gareth Southgate and Harry Maguire, the renditions of “Three Lions” and “Sweet Caroline”, and they got louder. as the stadium appeared on the horizon, until it looked like they emanated from the building itself.
Inside the noise echoed, accelerating as it echoed back and forth England was going through an unusually lucid sort of reverie: when Luke Shaw scored and the hosts led the European Championship final in two minutes and it was, after more than half a century, back home .
There was noise as Italy gave up and recovered, taming England’s abandonment and snatching control of the ball, Leonardo Bonucci’s equalizer piercing the national trance. This is what happens when individual nerves bounce back and collide with tens of thousands of additional nerves: the energy generated, at a certain atomic level, is transformed and released as noise.
There was some noise before extra time, Wembley was bouncing and jumping because, well, what else can you do? There was noise before the penalty shoot-out, the prospect that haunts England more than any other. It was a busy day. In recent weeks, England have come closer and closer to the end of what they see as their years of suffering, a month of noise.
What everyone inside Wembley will remember, however, the thing that will come back to them whenever they will – whenever they can – their spirits return to this day, at this time, no it’s not the noise but its sudden suppression. , the instantaneous absence of it. No sound will resonate as long as this: the oppressive and overwhelming sound of a stadium, of a country, which had dreamed, and now started, had awakened, brutally, in the cold light of day.
Solipsism doesn’t fully explain England’s many and varied disappointments over the past 55 years, but it is certainly a contributing factor. Before each tournament, England asserts its conviction that it is the team, the nation, that has the real agency: the feeling that in the end, England’s success or failure will depend exclusively on its own actions. England is not beaten by an adversary; he loses on his own.
It just so happens that this was perhaps the first time that theory had the sound of truth. England have hosted more matches than any Euro 2020 country. Wembley has hosted both the semi-finals and the final. More importantly, Southgate had at their disposal a squad that were – France aside perhaps – the envy of every other team here, a brimming roster of young talent, nurtured into club squads by the best coaches in the world. world. It was a tournament up for grabs for England.
In this Euro 2020 narrative, Italy was somewhere between a subplot and a supporting cast. Yet it is solipsism that speaks again. Perhaps this tournament was never devoted to England, desperately seeking the moment of redemption they have been waiting for so long. Perhaps the central figure was Italy from the start.
Italy’s course doesn’t have the great historical sweep of England’s, of course – she won the World Cup just 15 years ago, and he’s not the only one in her cabinet – but maybe the story is actually about a country that didn’t even qualify. for the World Cup in 2018, which seemed to have allowed its football culture to become obsolete, moribund, which seemed to have been left behind. Instead, he turned into a champion, once again, in the span of just three years.
Roberto Mancini’s Italy illuminated this tournament at every turn: with the verve and panache with which they swept through the group stage, and the courage and courage with which they reached the final. And how, against a more resourced team backed by a partisan mob, she took control of someone else’s dream.
During those first few minutes on Sunday at Wembley, when it felt like England was in the throes of a mass out-of-body experiment, as Leicester Square descended into chaos and the barriers around Wembley were taken over by ‘assault, again and again, by ticketless fans who didn’t want to stay out when the story was being made, Italy could have been swept away by it all.
The noise and energy made the stadium a little wild, nervous and fierce, and Mancini’s team seemed frozen. England, at times, looked like they could overtake their opponent, as if their story was so compelling it was irresistible. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, Italy settles down. Marco Verratti passed the ball to Jorginho. Jorginho returned it. Bonucci and his formidable partner, Giorgio Chiellini, tackled each other when things were present and reduced space when they weren’t.
One felt that England was losing the initiative, but in reality Italy was taking it. Federico Chiesa shot, low and fierce, pulling a save from Jordan Pickford. England is sinking a little deeper. Italy smelled of blood. Bonucci equalized the score, a kind of scrambled goal, a goal more determined than skill, which befits perfectly the virtues of this Italy.
The extra time was coming. Mancini’s side would, no matter what, keep England waiting. Time passed and the prospect of penalties loomed on the horizon. For England, one last test, one last ghost to face, and one last glimmer of hope. Andrea Belotti was the first to miss for Italy on penalties. Wembley exulted. He roared, the same old combustion, releasing his nerves into the night sky.
England just had to score. He was, at the end of two hours, at the end of a whole month, at the end of 55 years, the master of his destiny. It was, there and then, all about England. Marcus Rashford stepped forward. He had only been on the pitch for a few minutes, presented specifically to take a penalty.
As he approached the ball he slowed down, attempting to tempt Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to reveal his intentions. Donnarumma did not move. Rashford slowed down again. Donnarumma stopped, calling his bluff. Rashford reached for the ball and had to hit it. He skewed it to the left. He struck the foot of the post. And at that moment, the spell, the trance that had consumed a country, was broken.
Jadon Sancho also missed his shot saved by Donnarumma. But also Jorginho, the Italian penalty specialist, was offered the chance to win the match. For a while, England had a reprieve. Maybe her wait will be over soon. Maybe the dream was still alive. Southgate’s youngest member Bukayo Saka stepped forward. England had one more chance.
And then, like that, it was over. There was still noise inside Wembley, coming from the ranks massed in blue at the other end of the pitch, pouring over each other with delight. But their noise seemed muffled, distant, as if it came from another dimension, or a future we weren’t supposed to know.
The Italian players, now European champions, knelt in disbelief, in delight. The English players stared at the stadium, sorry and distraught, unable to understand that it was over, that the tournament in which everything changed had not changed the most important thing of all, that the wait continues. And the stadium, after all this noise, after all these songs, after all these dreams, was silent, dumbfounded, and looking straight back.
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