Was it coming home or was it going to Rome? It was a common phrase in the build-up to the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy. Both countries had five decades of pain to erase. England’s last major success was the 1966 FIFA World Cup, which was 55 years ago. Since then, humans have walked on the moon, the Internet is now the medium of communication, Microsoft and Apple are now the dominant conglomerates.
The pain of 55 years was compared to the pain of 53 years. Italy had not won the Euro since 1968. But, Italy at least had the consolation of winning two World Cups in 1982 and 2006. Italy missed out on the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification, which was a big blow for them. Moreover, the country became ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc. Coincidentally, it was a football match that would prove to be ground zero for the coronavirus havoc in Italy.
The wheel of karma is such that all he needed was football to ease the pain of the last two years. The task for Italy was not easy at all. They were at Wembley in front of over 80,000 partisan and rabid supporters. It was pressure of a different kind. It could break any team.
Italy showed strength in Euro 2020
When there has been so much destruction and devastation, one can only stop and think about the good things. The country was devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. The team’s morale was very low in 2018 after failing to qualify for the World Cup. The Italians needed something spectacular. He picked the pieces, tailored his game according to his strengths and moved on to the rebuilding phase. Roberto Mancini had the perfect man for him.
Thanks to Luke Shaw, England scored in the second minute. The Wembley Cauldron explodes, threatening to submit to the Italians’ submission. But, this Italian team is made of a different mindset.
When a team is undefeated in 34 matches, there is a mindset of positivity all around. They can pick themselves up, assured that the group can bounce back. An undefeated streak gives a side immense self-belief in fighting back. Despite the situation, Italy’s undefeated streak had them in good shape mentally. The mix of youth and experience worked wonders for him. He decided to persevere.
Italy keep calm between the cauldron
In the Roman Empire, there were gladiators who enthralled the spectators. Gladiators will have to face extreme anger and pressure in their battles. Now, despite all the dynamics at Wembley, the Italian team was displaying a Zen-like calmness. England were not playing with 11 players on the field. They had 11 plus 80–90,000 men crushing the Italians.
But, Italy was surprised. Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini were the giants who knew the definition of pressure. He handled things brilliantly. Age was just a number for him. Italy equalized in 67th minutes. The match was equal.
Now, Italy has been adept at winning in tough situations over the past few decades. The 2006 FIFA World Cup final was won on penalties against France. The match was similar in intensity, with Zinedine Zidane being red-carded for that infamous headbutt on Marco Materazzi. In the semi-final against Spain, Italy showed courage and entered the final.
Being in a familiar situation makes one prepared for any eventuality. Italy had experience. England did not. Italy got the penalty line-up right in sight. England did not. It was too much to ask for a 19-year-old teenager to pick up the last fine of Euros. It took the brilliance of Jordan Pickford and Gianluigi Donnarumma to bring the penalty so close. Donnarumma has a remarkable statistic that he has not conceded more than one goal in regulation time in his entire playing career. Even Gianluigi Buffon would be proud of it.
England’s wait continues
It is now over 20,000 days since England won a major trophy. They now have to hope for something big in Qatar 2022. But, the job is tough. Argentina look to end their pain streak in 2021. Many expected England to do the same. This is a year where some major wretchedness is coming to an end. In cricket, it was New Zealand. In football, it’s Argentina. Many expected England to follow suit. No one told them that another nation was facing great despair.
England’s last major competitive victory against Italy was in 1978. When a nation that was desperate to win for 55 years comes up against a nation with 53 years of pain, there is little margin of separation. Italy, buoyed by the pain of years following World Cup non-qualification and the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, showed more passion.
England ready to party. Thousands of people broke down the barricades before the match, leading to arrests. The decks were stacked to bring Euro 2020 back home. It is a different matter that the Euro never came home. It is also confusing that when England exited a pan-European union it should be passionate about a pan-European football tournament. Football is a weird game. For England, it is pain. For Italy, Euro 2020 is a story of ultimate redemption.