Italy fire their way into Euro 2020 finals on a night of high passion and great skill

By Samindra Kunti in London

July 6 – They completed 833 passes, retained 65% of ball possession and demonstrated a mastery of the ball that was often frightening, but in the end, not Spain, but Italy prevailed from the penalty spot to grind out a victory and reach the final of Euro 2020 after 120 minutes of superlative football and a dramatic shoot-out. 

It was a super semi-final that didn’t deserve a loser on a night that both sides demonstrated that football can be interpreted in different ways and elevated to an art form.

Spanish midfielder Pedri completed all of his 56 first-half passes and Giorgio Chiellini once again demonstrated why, even at his advanced age, he remains one of the best defenders in the world. He never gave up and neither did Italy, even if they were on the back foot against a vintage Spain, who seemed to peak at just about the right time.

At Wembley, bubbling with atmosphere like a cauldron of old, Italy, however took a lightning fast start before ceding the initiative to Spain, whose neat passing and triangulations had Roberto Mancini’s side defending in their own half in the previous round. Ferran Torres should have done better after a Nicolo Barella loose ball in midfield and Gianluigi Donnarumma parried Dani Olmo’s attempt after the striker, picked over Alvaro Morata, barged his way through the heart of Italy’s defense.

The number nineteen caused Italy all sorts of problems, dragging Leonardo Bonucci out of position, but lacked precision in his finishing and just after the half-hour mark he sent a shot swerving over. Still, the Spanish were demonstrating how to handle Italy, with a proactive approach and quick ball circulation. Italy would need to win it the hard way, grinding out a result, and yet Mancini’s team looked more dangerous in the final third. At the stroke of half-time, Emerson’s attempt clipped the bar.

Italy would not have been too displeased with the goalless scoreline at half-time, but Spain broke again after the restart only for Busquets’ shot to almost kiss the bar. Luis Enrique’s team were again dominant, but Frederico Chiesa’s wonderful 60th-minute goal altered the dynamics of the match. It remained intensely box-to-box, but the Italians were in the driving seat and lurking on the counter.

Italy smelled blood, but in the end Spain were rewarded for all their endeavor when a simple double pass between Olmo and substitute Morata carved open the opposing defense and the much-maligned striker sidefooted the ball beyond Donnarumma to take the game into extra time, and then penalties. But there was to be no redemption for Morata. He missed Spain’s fourth penalty, allowing Chelsea’s Jorginho to apply all his cheek, smart and class to convert the winning spot kick.

“There are some games when you have to suffer, but we deserved to be here,” said Robert Mancini. “We knew it was going to be tough. It wasn’t easy, and Spain surprised us at the start by deciding to play without a striker. This group, however, is amazing. Everyone wants to win, but this group of players wanted to do something special and they just did that.”

On the night Spain, who played their best game yet, deserved victory. On the basis of the tournament, Italy did. On Sunday in the final, the Squadra will be firm favorites to win their first European Championship since 1968. They will face England or Denmark.

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