England’s bid to end their 55-year wait for a major trophy ended in the familiar agony of defeat in a penalty shootout as Italy claimed the Euro 2020 crown at Wembley.
On a night of anticipation, tension and ultimate heartbreak in a feverish atmosphere, England looked on course for their most joyous day since 30 July 1966 when Luke Shaw gave them the perfect start after two minutes.
Italy, unbeaten in 33 matches before this final, slowly edged their way back into the game and were level in the 67th minute when Leonardo Bonucci pounced after England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford turned Marco Verratti’s header on to a post.
And after a tense period of extra time failed to find a winner, it was on to penalties and bitter disappointment for England manager Gareth Southgate and his players, who had gone into this final on a wave of expectation and high emotion.
England missed three of their five penalties, Marcus Rashford hitting a post and Gianluigi Donnarumma denying Jadon Sancho before – so cruelly for such a fine young player – Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka also saw the giant Italy goalkeeper save his spot-kick.
Harry Kane and Harry Maguire scored for England but, while Pickford kept hopes alive with saves from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, Domenico Berardi, Bonucci and Federico Bernardeschi scored for Italy.
The tearful 19-year-old Saka, who showed such courage to step forward, was consoled by his team-mates and manager, but there was no real consolation for them or the expectant fans packed into Wembley.
England come up short as Italy triumph
England’s years of hurt go on but it looked for the first 30 minutes of this final that the moment the country has waited more than 20,000 days for had finally arrived.
Southgate’s side came firing out of the blocks and the manager’s one change – replacing Saka with Kieran Trippier – paid an instant dividend as Trippier ran on to Kane’s perfect pass to find the onrushing Shaw at the far post and he slammed an emphatic finish past Donnarumma.
England were up and running and urged on by a vast, frenzied crowd they had this talented, streetwise Italian side on the back foot until they suddenly gained a foothold in the closing phase of the first half.
Italy dominated possession, and it was no surprise when they restored parity, then looking the more likely winners as Southgate’s side, so full of running early on, started to labour, particularly after losing the outstanding Declan Rice to a knock.
Southgate surprisingly waited until extra time to introduce Jack Grealish but by that stage the game was locked on course for penalties and so it proved.
Sancho and Rashford came on in the closing moments, presumably in readiness for penalties, but sadly for Southgate, who has got so much right in Euro 2020, this was one move that did not pay off as both failed with their spot-kicks.
Pickford performed heroics to save two penalties but he was also left in tears after England’s fate was sealed.
Italy edged over the line and both Southgate and his players looked devastated as they took sympathetic applause from England’s fans, who had arrived with such high hopes but filed out of Wembley with their dreams of a major trophy shattered once more.
England came close when they reached the semi-final of the World Cup in Moscow in 2018 but this loss will cut even deeper after they made such smooth progress to the final and had the chance to finally claim a second trophy in what was effectively a home tournament with its climax at Wembley.
They have made progress – but still England could not clear the final hurdle.