Italy’s Victory at Euro 2020 Echoes a Broader Resurgence
ROME – The eruption of pure joy – and the car horns and the horn and the exploding and hugging fireworks, so hugging – across Italy on Sunday after his men’s national football team beat England for winning the Euro 2020 tournament marked an extraordinary turnaround, not just for a recently besieged team, but also for a recently besieged country.
But while the disjointed, indefatigable and unlikely unbeaten Italian national team boosted the country’s morale after multiple lockdowns and untold suffering caused by a brutal pandemic, it was just the latest signal of a national resurgence.
Also on Sunday, Matteo Berrettini became the first Italian to compete in the men’s singles championship at Wimbledon. Shortly before going to court, Pope Francis showed his face for the first time since undergoing major colon surgery. In May, the Roman rock band Maneskin won the Eurovision Song Contest. And Khaby Lame, a 21-year-old from near Turin, has one of the world’s most followed accounts on TikTok.
Italy’s fortunes are also improving in real ways, and not just symbolically.
In February, a political crisis led the country to abandon its ailing prime minister and allow the membership of Mario Draghi, a former president of the European Central Bank whose exalted international status helped lift Italy from a a leading player on the European scene to a driving force. More than half of the country has received a dose of vaccination; restaurants, bars, parks and beaches have reopened. Billions of euros are heading to the country as part of a huge European coronavirus rescue plan. Overhauls once considered unimaginable, including the removal of crippling bureaucracy, now seem plausible.
These substantial changes may have placed Italy in a stronger position compared to its European neighbors in which political uncertainty and tensions abound, but nothing brings the country together or touches a communal and delighted nerve, like a big national football victory.
Sunday night’s inarticulate cries, cheers for Leonardo Bonucci’s equalizing goal in the second half and Gianluigi Donnarumma’s two saves on penalties, its yapping of the Roman balconies, the squares of Bergamo and the Sicilian seashores translated into expressions of relief and the return of life.
Even before the match, the country got carried away. The Wimbledon final, in which Mr Berrettini managed to take a set from Novak Djokovic, was a warm-up for the main event. Waiters and waitresses, their faces painted in Italian colors, served copious amounts of beer to fans waving Italian flags.
The open-air cinema in the Trastevere section of Rome halted its regular programming (“A Perfect Day” by Ferzan Ozpetek) for the match, and the turnout was considerably higher, with thousands crowded into the square. Fans took to the main squares, nuns stood in front of televisions, and families stocked up on flags and horns.
“She was born on the day Italy won the World Cup,” Carlo Alberto Pietrangeli, 52, said of Ester Aquilani, 15, who carried a flag draped over his shoulders. His cousin also, Lorenzo Ciurleo, 12, who refused to wave a flag until the final for fear of bringing bad luck.
“If we had lost,” he said in a gulp.
But they didn’t lose, and if anyone expected to sleep in the days ahead, they could practically forget about it.
While past celebrations, most recently the team’s World Cup victory in 2006, matched Sunday night’s celebrations at the decibel level, they lacked the underlying emotional stream and pent-up frustration.
“The national team is the symbol of a country which, in difficult times, has always known how to recover,” said Roberto Mancini, the team’s coach, before the start of the tournament and while Italy was still locked out.
It is remarkable that the Italian football team has shown the country that they can pick themselves up, dust themselves off and outdo the rest of Europe.
At the end of 2017, Italy failed for the first time in 60 years to qualify for the World Cup, which it has won four times. “National Shame” and “Apocalypse” read the headlines of a country where gambling is so central to its national identity and where humiliation has caused an existential crisis. Months later, an anti-European coalition of the nationalist League party of Matteo Salvini and the populist and anti-establishment movement Five Star chose Giuseppe Conte, a little-known law professor, to lead the country.
Years of political drama, often mind-boggling incompetence, rapprochement with Donald Trump and threats against the European Union followed. Coalitions have changed, but Mr Conte has remained, and then, in February 2020, the first major coronavirus outbreak in the West exploded in northern Italy, turning parts of the country into a battlefield, crippling the world. economy and forcing large parts of daily life – including football stadiums – to close.
Under Mr. Draghi, around 58% of Italians have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and the country’s nationalists and anti-establishment forces have joined his government.
Before the team won the title, Mr Draghi had sought to bring the league game back to Rome.
Last month he sought to move the final from Wembley Stadium to London due to the appearance of the Delta variant there. In a not-so-subtle dig with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has backed Brexit, Mr Draghi suggested moving the final to “a country where new coronavirus infections are not on the rise”.
But no one really expected Italy and their mostly young and inexperienced squad to compete in the final at Wembley, where Mr Mancini, during his playing years, lost the 1992 European Cup final with his Sampdoria team against Barcelona.
Nevertheless, the team’s captain, veteran defender Giorgio Chiellini, noted that the team had a “chemistry” which was “a kind of magic”. And as the team continued to win, more and more Italians started to believe it.
After atrocious penalties and a diving block from Mr Donnarumma made Italy the European champion, English fans were amazed.
The men’s team hadn’t won a major championship or even made it to a major final in 55 years, but this team had promise, youth, diversity and a social conscience and seemed to reflect a complex and multicultural England that sometimes got lost in tribal debates. on Brexit. The team united a country that has spent much of the past four and a half years arguing with itself over its split from the European Union, and much of the past 15 months under lockdowns over the European Union. coronavirus.
Queen Elizabeth II, who is 95, reminded the team manager in a letter that she was there 55 years ago to present the World Cup to her predecessor. Over 70 percent of the UK’s population was born after this championship. And many more will be born before they break the losing streak.
Tears washed away the English flag that Rosie Mayson, 25, had painted on her face.
“I’m devastated,” she said in London, “we didn’t bring him home.”
Veterans with disappointed English hopes tried to console the young supporters. “Don’t be sad,” James Mcdonall, 50, told a group of English teenagers. “It’s so quintessentially English: hope, then losing on penalties on a rainy day.”
Rome fans did not need to console themselves. They ripped off their shirts, exposing Italian flags on their chests. “It’s us. It’s us,” they chanted in circles, blue fire sticks illuminating their faces. “The European champions are us.
A river of fans roamed the streets of Rome, with numerous traffic lights, dumpsters and shoulder-to-shoulder. Cars honking their horns littered the streets as if it were a merry traffic jam. Fireworks illuminated a city that did not want to sleep.
“It’s the most beautiful thing of my life,” said Daniele Pace, 20, wearing Italy’s national blue jersey and a flag around her hips. “It’s the best thing that can happen to us after COVID. He said winning against England was “even better. They are not even part of the European Union.
The government was a little more diplomatic.
The press service of Mr. Draghi, usually sober, sent a statement in the Italian colors green, white and red, stating that the Prime Minister would receive the team tomorrow in his office “to thank them on behalf of the whole government “.
As all of Italy celebrated, the team got excited on the pitch, where they were joined by Wimbledon finalist Mr Berrettini.
Mr Bonucci called the victory a “dream come true”. He said England thought the trophy was going home, but instead he was going to Rome. “I’m sorry for them,” he told Italian television after the match. “But once again, Italy teaches a lesson.”
Mark Landler and Elian Peltier contributed to reports from London, Emma Bubola From Rome.
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