I am going to leave it there for now, but ready yourselves for another dose of live reaction in a few hours when England wakes up.
In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure (or pain), here are the front pages of the papers around the country.
Take care, arrivederci (sorry).
Life is beautiful and life is cruel. A window into the souls of the victorious and the vanquished.
In the context of hope for the future, Jordan Henderson has spoken of his belief that this is a step towards building towards the 2022 World Cup.
“Of course you need to learn from the experience,” he said. “I know it’s disappointing now but we will go away and have a little break, it will eat at you a little bit and you have to use it as fuel to want more, to achieve more and keep pushing each other.
“What we have created this tournament is something really special and hopefully we can bounce back from this. I’m sure we will we have Qatar coming up in 16 months, we are in good shape, what we have created is really special. I’m really proud of the lads and I’m looking forward to what we can do going forward.”
“Let’s don’t forget that there were a number of England players who barely put a foot wrong the whole tournament,” writes Jim. “Stones, Maguire, Walker, Shaw, Trippier, Rice, Phillips, Pickford. The flair players like Sterling, Saka, Mount, Grealish, and Kane were also impressive. That bodes well for the future.”
It is a point perhaps too painful for fans to properly consider while so raw, but this iteration of England is still on the rise. The post mortem will be very different from in the past, and there is much to look forward to.
Lucy Campbell was in central London for the match and witnessed the full spectrum of emotions from England supporters.
“Silence fell on Trafalgar Square. Some left immediately, others stood frozen in their shoes, in utter disbelief at how close it had been. It wasn’t the result England had spent weeks willing to materialise, instead it was something more heartbreakingly familiar.”
Speaking of, here is our story just published:
Steve Richards writes to say he is “genuinely puzzled by the penalty takers”.
“Presumably months of practice, psychology and technique determined who should take them and when (the substitutions were obviously planned). But it seemed ... odd ? Can ‘pressure’ and accumulated data affect even the most fearless/accomplished young footballer? When they have to take the long walk from the halfway line ? No stuttering run-ups, no ‘giving the eyes’. Head down, knee over the ball and just hit it? England are a good team. Italy are better. Deserved winners.”
There has be a copious amount of discussion around this. Alan Shearer’s view is it was a “big ask” for late, late substitutions Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to step up, while Roy Keane said it was absurd to send Bukayo Saka, a 19-year-old who has never taken a penalty for Arsenal, out to take the fifth penalty.
Southgate has already said it was “my call and totally rests with me”.
Here is Jonathan Liew’s take:
I should stress yet again that no player, under any circumstances, should be subject to racial abuse. ICYMI the FA has released a statement condemning said abuse of England players including Saka and calling for “accountability and action”.
Scenes in Rome.
The celebrations are not just happening in Italy and Europe, either. There is a bit going on in Melbourne’s Lygon Street.
Roberto Mancini, the manager behind Italy’s renaissance, has been crying solidly since full-time and is still in shock “after achieving something incredible”.
“We don’t even realise what we have managed to achieve,” he said. “We are delighted for people and the Italian public because they really deserve this after what has been a trying period. This is great joy for us.
“I cried on this ground 30 years ago after the 1992 European Cup final [when Sampdoria lost to Barcelona]. That really hurt back then. Winning the European Championship for the first time since 1968 and bringing home the trophy I do think it is something incredible.
“It [crying] was the emotion which happens after achieving something incredible. It was the emotion of seeing the guys celebrate and the fans in the stands. Seeing everything we have managed to create, all of the hard work we have put in over the last three years but specifically the last 50 days which have been very hard.
“It’s the fact we have been able to forge this team spirit over the last 50 days, they have really created something which can never be separated going forward. They will always be synonymous with this triumph.”
Emma here to bring you more reaction from home and abroad. To Italy for a bit, and Leonardo Bonucci says the “It’s Coming Home” chant galvanised his team.
“We heard it day in, day out ever since Wednesday night, since the Denmark game, that the cup would be coming home to London,” Bonucci said. “Sorry for them but actually the cup will be taking a nice flight to Rome and that way Italians all over the world can savour this competition. It is for everyone, we said from day one it was for them and for us.”
That joy flight to Rome has been coming for some time, says the Juventus centre-back.
“You need to want it more than anything else, this is a renaissance for Italian football, and I am sure this squad and this great coach will make plenty of headlines going forward.
“We believed right from day one when we all joined up, there was different feeling in the air and it has come to pass. We never got tired of being together or spending time together, we had this burning desire to stay together and it is incredible.”
Time to hand over to my colleague, Emma Kemp, who will guide you through more reaction from England, Italy and beyond.
The British prime minister, Boris Johnson, has given his reaction: “That was a heartbreaking end to #Euro2020 but Gareth Southgate and his England squad played like heroes. They have done the nation proud and deserve great credit.”
Prince William tweeted: “England, you’ve all come so far, but sadly, this time it wasn’t our day. You can all hold your heads high, and be so proud of yourselves – I know there’s more to come.”
“Heartbreaking. On and off the pitch, this team is the very best of our country. They’ve done us proud,” wrote the Labour leader, Keir Starmer on Twitter. The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the team had “inspired millions across the country” and “made history. You’ve inspired millions across the country, and London is so proud of you.”
Here is a bit of Barney Ronay, reflecting on England’s Euro 2020 run:
“It was nearly complete, it was nearly so sweet. But it was, lest we forget, still sweet all the same. For Gareth Southgate and his young team, defeat came in the cruellest, most operatic fashion at Wembley as England’s shot at a first tournament victory in 55 years was decided by another of those brutal little flick-books of joy and despair.”
In more deeply depressing news, several England players including Bukayo Saka have been subjected to racial abuse on social media after the match. The FA has released a statement condemning the abuse and calling for “accountability and action”.
The FA strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and is appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media. We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team. We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible.
We will continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game, but we implore government to act quickly and bring in the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real life consequences. Social media companies need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms, gather evidence that can lead to prosecution and support making their platforms free from this type of abhorrent abuse.
The Metropolitan Police have reported 45 arrests while policing the final. In case you missed it earlier, a number of fans also got into Wembley despite not having tickets. Let’s hope for a more peaceful night from here on.
Here are Andy Hunter’s player ratings from Wembley:
Let’s get some pundit reaction to England’s defeat, with plenty quick to defend the players who stepped up and missed spot-kicks.
“I’ve seen seasoned players with hundreds of games under their belts turn away,” the BBC’s Rio Ferdinand said in defence of those who missed. Alan Shearer was critical of Gareth Southgate’s decision to bring players on late for penalties. “It’s a big ask to put players on with a minute to go and say ‘go and take a penalty’ when they’ve had no feel of the ball,” he said.
On ITV, Ian Wright had words of comfort for Bukayo Saka. “He is more than capable of taking that penalty,” Wright said. “He is brave enough to take it. I am devastated for him. We have done brilliantly to get to where we got to but in the end we just got pipped.”
Roy Keane added: “It’s not a night be critical of England. I think Gareth and his staff have been magnificent. It’s a tough night for England but sometimes you have to lose to win. You have to take your medicine. There has been huge progress in the last few years and the World Cup is around the corner.”
Niall here, picking up the blog with more reaction. Away from England’s pain, Italy were undeniably the tournament’s best team, and looked favourites from the opening game when they swept Turkey aside. Here’s Nicky Bandini on how they did it:
David Hytner was also there, and his match report has landed. Here’s his take on a wildly fluctuating night at Wembley, when Italy deservedly became champions of Europe for the second time, breaking English hearts in the process. Many congratulations to Italy, and huge commiserations to England, who follow up semi-final defeat in the World Cup with a final loss at the Euros. Hey, there’s a trend here. Victory in Qatar next winter? You never know. Thanks for reading this MBM. Stay safe, everyone. Nighty night.
Jonathan Liew was at Wembley. Here’s his verdict on some “brave brilliant lads” who have “charmed the nation”.
Tonight’s match went down quite well in Rome, as you’d imagine. Here’s Angela Giuffrida on an outcome few expected when the tournament started last month.
As for what he told the team back in the dressing room afterwards: “We are all together, they’ve been incredible to work with. They’ve given the country some unbelievable memories. Tonight will be extremely difficult for us of course, and you have to feel that disappointment because the opportunity to win trophies like this are so rare in your life. But when they reflect what they’ve done, they should be incredibly proud of themselves. At the moment, the pain of the defeat is huge, we wanted to give the nation one more special night and we weren’t able to do it. The World Cup feels a million miles away, but this team can be better and can improve, the number of young players we have blooded, they have been fantastic. But the future ... yeah, I need a bit of time to reflect on that.” And then he leaves the stage, his heart broken, but with great dignity.
More from England’s manager on the penalties. “We were well prepared and obviously started it well, but unfortunately the guys weren’t able to convert tonight. They can’t look at themselves in terms of how they practised because they couldn’t have done any more or anything better.”
Gareth Southgate speaks to the BBC. “We’re hugely disappointed. The players have been an absolute credit, they’ve given everything they possibly could. They’ve run themselves into the ground. At times they played really well, at times we didn’t keep the ball quite well enough, especially at the start of the second half, but we can’t have any recriminations, they’ve been a joy to work with. They’ve gone further than we’ve gone for so long, but tonight it’s incredibly painful in that dressing room. It’s down to me. I decided on the penalty takers based on what they’ve done in training, and nobody is on their own. We won together as a team, and it’s on all of us for not being able to win the game tonight. But in terms of the penalties, that’s my call. It totally rests with me.”
An understandably dejected Harry Kane talks to the BBC. “I couldn’t have given more, the boys couldn’t have given more. Penalties are obviously the worst feeling in the world when you lose. It wasn’t our night, but it’s been a fantastic tournament and we should be proud to hold our heads up high. It’s going to hurt now, but we’re on the right track and are building. Hopefully we can make progress from this next year. Italy are a great side. We got off to a perfect start and maybe dropped a little too deep, it’s easy to try to soak up the pressure and hold onto that. To be fair we looked fairly in control, and they got their break from the set piece. Penalties is penalties. We went through our process, the boys did everything they could, it just wasn’t our night. These things can happen. Anyone can miss a penalty. We win together, we lose together. The boys can grow from it, and it gives us motivation for the World Cup next year. We’re all winners, we want to win, and it will probably hurt for the rest of our careers, but that’s football.”
The Wembley arch lights up in Azzurri blue. Fireworks top it off. Then the red, white and green of the Italian flag scrolls across the sky. Italy go off to jig about in front of their fans, while the smattering of English supporters who have stayed to congratulate the winners smile wryly. “There has been no shame in this defeat, nor the tournament performance for this team,” writes Graeme Thorn. “The majority of the squad are young enough to give 2022 and 2024 a real go and they definitely can build on this experience.”
The first Italian up? The stricken Leonardo Spinazzola, on crutches. He hops up with the sunniest smile of the evening spread across his face; he deserves his gold medal as much as any of tonight’s finalists, on account of his brilliance up until his unfortunate injury. Once everyone gets their medal, Giorgio Chiellini, tears stinging his eyes, a grin as wide as the Wembley arch, takes possession of the Henri Delaunay Cup and, as ticker tape fills the air, hoists it high above his head. Italy are the winners of Euro 2020!
Now Italy applaud their vanquished opponents, as Gareth Southgate leads his team to receive their silver medals. Most of them immediately take them off as they’re hung around their neck, but they’ll become precious baubles given time. A warm embrace between Southgate and Roberto Mancini.
Eder comes out with the Henri Delaunay Cup again, this time to hand it over to the new champions of Europe. Before that ceremony begins, Gianluigi Donnarumma is handed the award for Player of the Tournament. Then Italy form a guard of honour, applauding referee Bjorn Kuipers and his team as they go up to receive their commemorative trinkets.
Southgate gathers his squad into a huddle. No doubt he’ll get some flak for sending on Rashford and Sancho to their fate, and for selecting the 19-year-old Saka to take the decisive fifth kick. But these are three sensational players, and things happen in football. Here’s to the country throwing a loving arm around all three, plus the manager, because they deserve to be cut all the slack for the joy they’ve given the country during this tournament ... and for making England’s first final for 55 years. It hurts now, but it’s been a blast, right?
Italy cavort. They were the better side tonight, and proved themselves the best team of the entire tournament. It’s a worthy victory. They’ve beaten favourites Belgium, a resurgent Spain, and now an excellent young England side. They’ve waited a long time for a second European Championship - 53 years - and will enjoy their party tonight!
Gareth Southgate has been here before, and uses his experience to console poor Jadon Sancho, who looks more shocked than upset right now, though you suspect the tears won’t be long in coming. Who could blame the poor young lad? Bukayo Saka blows his cheeks out, utterly deflated. Jack Grealish stands with hands on hips. Harry Maguire wears a blank look as he struggles to process the disappointment. Harry Kane claps the fans who have chosen to stay and thank their heroes. Declan Rice tries to put on a brave face before crumbling. England have been brilliant this month, and came so close; it’s heartbreaking to see these young men so upset. But they can be proud of their efforts, each and every one. When the sting of defeat subsides, they’ll look back on this tournament with fondness.
RESULT: Italy 1-1 England (aet; Italy win 3-2 on pens)
As Donnarumma disappears under a pile of azzurri shirts, Saka dissolves into tears. Italy are champions of Europe again, for the first time since 1968! Congratulations to Italy, commiserations to England. England’s wait goes on; no trophy for their remarkable young squad, but they remain heroes all.
PENALTIES: Italy 3-2 England. Saka goes right. Donnarumma reads his intention, and parries. Italy are the champions of Europe!
PENALTIES: Italy 3-2 England. Jorginho made things look simple against Spain. Can he do it again? He takes one of his cute little leaps, and rolls towards the bottom left ... but Pickford reads it, pushing the ball onto the post and out! England are still alive!
PENALTIES: Italy 3-2 England. Sancho takes a skip and chips towards the bottom right. Donnarumma guesses correctly, and Italy are a kick away from victory.
PENALTIES: Italy 3-2 England. Bernardeschi slams one straight down the middle, Pickford diving out of the way.
PENALTIES: Italy 2-2 England. Rashford stutters ... and drags a poor effort onto the base of the left-hand post and out. All level again.
PENALTIES: Italy 2-2 England. Bonucci hoicks into the top left. Pickford guesses correctly, and flings a hand towards it, but there’s no stopping a well-placed kick.
PENALTIES: Italy 1-2 England. Maguire, grim faced, steps up. He whistles a stunner into the top right! Unstoppable!
PENALTIES: Italy 1-1 England. Belotti takes a straight run-up, pauses ... and sends a weak effort towards the bottom right. Pickford guesses right and saves! Advantage England!
PENALTIES: Italy 1-1 England. Kane comes up first for England. He looks pensive, perhaps thinking about the one he missed against Denmark. He whips into the bottom left, out of Donnarumma’s reach.
PENALTIES: Italy 1-0 England. Berardi up first. He chews nervously ... but slots into the bottom left, sending Pickford the wrong way.
Italy have won the toss. They’ll take the first penalty.
Good news for England: no team has ever won two penalty shoot-outs at a European Championship finals. Italy, of course, got past Spain in the semis by winning one. England’s competitive record in shootouts is three wins and six losses, while Italy also have a negative balance, winning five and losing seven. Both keepers, with the chance to be the hero of the hour, receive their pep-talks from the backroom staff. Gareth Southgate and Roberto Mancini get their men into huddles and talk about the big picture.
EXTRA TIME, FULL TIME: Italy 1-1 England
Nope. Penalties here we come!
ET 30 min +3: Jorginho swings one in from the right. Too much juice. It flies out serenely for a goal kick. The ball’s launched down the other end. Throw for England. One last chance to fling one into the box and cause some bedlam?
ET 30 min +2: Italy continue to probe. They’re finishing strongly.
ET 30 min +1: Bernardeschi whips the corner towards the near post. It’s flicked on, but there’s nobody in the six-yard box to trundle home for the Italians! England catch their breath. That was the first of three extra minutes.
ET 30 min: Before the corner can be taken, England make two changes, with penalties presumably in mind. Walker and the sub Henderson make way for Sancho and Rashford.
ET 29 min: Italy knock it around the middle, back and forth, back and forth. Suddenly Florenzi strides down the left and wins a corner off Henderson.
ET 28 min: Emerson makes way for Florenzi.
ET 27 min: Grealish dribbles down the left but runs the ball out for a goal kick. Penalties loom ever closer.
ET 26 min: Bernardeschi whips a ball into the England box from the left. It hits the hand of Stones, and Italy want a penalty, but there was no distance whatsoever between the two players, and the referee isn’t interested.
ET 25 min: England have a free kick, then, in Italian territory, with Jorginho - who had also stayed down, in order to take the sting out of that situation - momentarily off the field. Phillips floats one in. Easy pickings for Donnarumma. Jorginho comes back on to jeers.
ET 24 min: Grealish is good to continue, thankfully.
ET 23 min: Grealish is down, after coming off worse when challenging for a loose ball with Jorginho. The Italian’s studs bounce off the top of the ball and onto Grealish’s thigh. It’s a yellow card, and it could easily have been a red.
ET 21 min: Sterling dribbles in from the right, and just for a second, looks like he’ll spin away from Chiellini on the right-hand corner of the six-yard box. But Chiellini sticks to his back like glue, then hooks the ball clear with a telescopic leg. What defending!
ET 20 min: England drop the pace, and stroke it around the back for a while. What’s worse? Missing a penalty in the shoot-out or making a mistake with time running out? Decisions, decisions.
ET 18 min: A long throw from Walker, in from the right, causes all manner of bedlam in the Italian box. It’s only half cleared. Kane crosses it back in from the left. Stones is inches away from connecting with a header, eight yards out, but Donnarumma does enough to put him off with a full-scale flap. A few nerves rattling at both ends, it’s fair to say.
ET 17 min: Bernardeschi sends the free kick goalwards with some pace, but it’s straight at Pickford, who chests, then collects the loose ball. For a split second, England hearts were in mouths, but the keeper looked in control.
ET 16 min: Maguire is booked for clanking his way through the back of Belotti, who was shielding the ball 25 yards from the England goal.
Italy get the second half underway. “Just leaving work now,” writes Gary Naylor. “Like England, I’m going to miss the penalties.” Some textbook fate-tempting there.
EXTRA TIME, HALF TIME: Italy 1-1 England
England are penalised for their overly physical presence in a penalty-box melee, and we’re 15 minutes closer to a penalty shoot-out!
ET 15 min +1: Locatelli clumsily hand balls out on the left, and this is one last chance for England to do something in this first period. Shaw to take.
ET 15 min: There will be one added minute of this first period of extra time.
ET 13 min: Italy come so close to taking the lead! Emerson romps into space down the left, Walker having mistimed a sliding tackle. He crosses towards the near post. Pickford manages to block, with Bernardeschi racing in. The ball pings off Belotti at high speed and wide left. Goal kick. Wow.
ET 12 min: Maguire, under no pressure, rakes a long pass towards nobody in particular and out of play. A few sighs, then a defiant chorus of Three Lions.
ET 11 min: Grealish has his first dribble down the left. He backflicks in the hope of releasing Saka into the box. Di Lorenzo gets a small nick that confuses Saka, who runs the ball out for a goal kick.
ET 10 min: Phillips is bowled over just outside the England D. The referee opts to play advantage, as Shaw and Saka were working their way down the left, but the move peters out. England would almost certainly have preferred the free kick.
ET 9 min: Belotti spins into space, 30 yards from goal, and takes a shot. It’s deflected high, falling harmlessly into the arms of Pickford. And then Wembley roars as fan favourite Jack Grealish comes on for Mount.
ET 7 min: The corner is only half-cleared by Italy. Phillips brings it under control and sends a low drive wide left. Not too far off target, but never worrying Donnarumma.
ET 6 min: Sterling accelerates down the left and crosses low, hoping to find either Kane or Saka in the middle. Bonucci slides in to block. Corner. Before it can be taken, Locatelli replaces Verratti.
ET 5 min: Italy stroke it around the back. Old school. Then Verratti launches long towards Berardi, but Pickford is out quickly to claim on the edge of his box.
ET 3 min: Belotti accidentally kicks Maguire in the head as the pair compete under a high ball. Just a free kick, and Maguire accepts Belotti’s apology.
ET 2 min: Italy string a few passes together. Bernardeschi makes his way down the left touchline, but only because Henderson has been illegally blocked by Emerson. Free kick and relief for England, who looked a little light at the back for a minute there.
England get the first period of extra time underway. Italy have made a change, swapping Insigne for Belotti.
“You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.” The words of Alf Ramsey, there, after West Germany’s Wolfgang Weber bundled home a scrappy last-gasp equaliser to force the 1966 World Cup final into extra time. Italy’s second-half comeback wasn’t quite so dramatic, though however you spin it, England were just 23 minutes from glory. Time for Gareth Southgate to give his tiring troops the speech of his life. Roberto Mancini is already at work, gathering his men into a huddle and telling them what’s what. Thirty minutes of extra time and possibly penalties coming up!
FULL TIME: Italy 1-1 England
It was always going to be like this, wasn’t it?
90 min +6: Saka nips in ahead of Chiellini down the right. The Italian captain hauls him back in the comic-book style, grabbing his collar, stretching it to cartoon lengths. A clear booking.
90 min +5: Cristante makes some space down the right and chips infield. Berardi can’t get a head to the cross, and Walker calmly cushions back to Pickford. What moxie that took at this stage of proceedings!
90 min +4: Italy continue to hog the ball.
90 min +3: A few whistles now as Italy stroke the ball around the middle.
90 min +2: Wembley falls almost totally silent as Insigne buzzes in the England half. As tense as football gets.
90 min +1: A free kick launched long into the Italian box. Stones can’t get a header on target, then Verratti is clipped by Henderson. Relief for Italy.
90 min: There will be six added minutes. The stuff of instant legend, coming right up?
89 min: Sterling embarks on a graceful run down the inside-left channel, all the way into the Italy box. He takes one touch too many and, shepherded away from goal by Bonucci and Chiellini, runs the ball out for a goal kick.
88 min: The game restarts. The tension, it almost certainly goes without saying, thickens the air. It’s palpable. Nervous?
87 min: A pause in the action, as a toolbag enters the field of play and is chased off by the stewards.
86 min: Nope, Chiesa can’t continue, and on comes Bernardeschi in his place. He’s welcomed by loud jeering; Wembley has otherwise been quiet and nervous.
85 min: Insigne is booked for a late clip on Phillips. The resulting free kick is sent in from the right and only half cleared. Shaw meets the dropping ball and skies it. Goal kick.
83 min: But now he’s back on! Italy, a little discombobulated by the Chiesa drama, allow Mount to wriggle into their area from the left. Mount cuts back cleverly to Saka, who can’t control. Had he managed to do so, he’d have been shooting from 12 yards.
82 min: It looks like Chiesa can’t continue. He might have also taken a nick off Walker when barged to the ground. He trudges off sadly.
80 min: Chiesa drives sensationally down the left and cuts infield, past Walker and Saka. Just as he’s preparing to shoot on the edge of the box, Phillips comes over and clatters him to the ground, fairly, with a good old-fashioned shoulder charge. Chiesa stays down, he’ll need some treatment.
78 min: Maguire tries to get England going again by channelling his inner Beckenbauer and meandering down the left. He doesn’t really go anywhere, but that’s not the point. Dribble as rallying cry.
76 min: England can’t get out of their own half. Chiesa’s dribble down the left is ended, but when Maguire takes control, he can only send a long ball sailing out for a throw, with nobody in white shirts in the Italian half.
74 min: Henderson comes on for Rice. He needs to settle England down quickly, because they’re rocking. Cristiante nearly dribbles his way clear down the middle, but over-elaborates and loses control, much to England’s relief.
73 min: Bonucci launches long down the middle. Berardi meets the dropping ball on the penalty spot and ... lashes a volley wildly over the bar. He was put off by Pickford, rushing off his goal-line. So close to the spectacular!
72 min: With Italy in the ascendancy, England do the right thing and stroke it around the back for a bit, drawing the sting out of the game with some sterile possession.
71 min: England respond by replacing Trippier with Saka. Looks like they’ll be reverting to four at the back.
69 min: Italy have their tails up now, as Chiesa works his way down the right and crosses to ... nobody in particular. Now it’s England who need to clear their heads. Can Italy become the first team to come from behind to win a Euros final since France did for them in 2000?
GOAL! Italy 1-1 England (Bonucci 67)
The corner’s flicked on at the near post by Cristante. Verratti, on the left-hand corner of the six-yard box, gets ahead of Mount and tries to force a header home. Pickford turns onto the base of the left-hand post. The ball pings back to Bonucci, who bundles home from close range. This has been coming.
66 min: Chiesa curls in from the left. Anyone taller than Insigne, and an Italian would be planting home from six yards. As it is, Maguire is able to eyebrow out for a corner. From which...
65 min: Shaw sends a long pass down the inside-left channel and nearly finds Mount on the edge of the box. Donnarumma reads the danger and comes out to claim. A decent couple of minutes for England after a dangerous period of Italian possession.
64 min: Mount’s nous wins a corner for England on the left. Trippier swings it in. Stones half-heads, half-shoulders an effort straight at Donnarumma, who tips over. Bonucci heads the second corner away decisively.
62 min: Chiesa cuts in from the left, drops a shoulder a couple of times, and fizzes a low shot towards the bottom right. It’s heading in, but Pickford gets down quickly and sticks out a strong hand. A fine effort with a save to match!
60 min: Di Lorenzo scoops a cross in from the right. Emerson chests down. He lays off for Insigne, but the ball clanked off his hand, and the whistle relives the pressure on England.
59 min: Italy are beginning to dominate possession again.
57 min: A wild Chiesa shot is deflected into the path of Insigne, who dribbles his way down the left and reaches the byline, before attempting to beat Pickford with power at the near post. Pickford parries with a strong hand.
56 min: Shaw swings it into the Italy box. Maguire rises high, eight yards out, and sends an uncharacteristically directionless header over the bar. A good chance, that.
55 min: Bonucci goes into the book for a ruthless hack into the back of Sterling. A free kick out on the left, and a chance for the hosts to load the box.
54 min: Italy blink first, making a double change. Cristante and Berardi come on for Immobile and Barella.
53 min: Insigne dribbles in from the left and enters the English box. He looks to send a curler towards the top right, but nearly hits the corner flag instead.
52 min: Chiesa bursts purposefully down the right and loops long for Insigne. Walker reads the danger sensationally, leaping high to intercept, heading gently back to Pickford as he does so. Calm as you like!
51 min: Insigne curls for the top right, but it’s always high and wide. Pickford had it covered, too. England breathe again.
50 min: Insigne traps the ball on the edge of the England D, and is clumsily barged over from behind by Sterling. This is a free kick in a very dangerous position. Insigne springs to his feet, his eyes having lit up.
48 min: Sterling darts into the Italy box from the left, attempting to make his way through a sliver of space between Bonucci and Chiellini. He goes down, brushed lightly from behind by Chiellini. He wants a penalty ... but he’s not getting one. It would have been pretty soft, to be fair.
47 min: Kane powers down the left and is clipped on the heel by Barella, who becomes the first name in the referee’s notebook tonight.
46 min: Italy enjoyed 62 percent of possession during that first half, and made six attempts on goal. England had just the one.
England get the second half underway. Neither manager has made any change during the break.
Here’s a dispatch from our very own Philip Cornwall, who is at Wembley today as a fan.
Outside Wembley there were lots of people walking the wrong way down the slope to the stadium, something you would only do, surely, if you had no ticket. At one point they announced that a “ticketing issue” was stopping them getting people inside the stadium itself.
As I went to enter the ground, there were loads of lads hanging about, trying to persuade ticket holders to let them squeeze behind them through the turnstiles. Some were giving up but others were persisting.
The turnstiles themselves are unmanned: you scan your ticket. So it required the vigilance of the stewards about five yards back to see if this is happening. I made sure I went in alone but the person behind me allowed someone to try. This lad was spotted and the stewards were detaining him but clearly lots were getting through.
When it came to enter the block, the two stewards were not interested in seeing my ticket. I tried to show my ticket – really put an effort into it. The two stewards talked to each other and did not look at my phone, and others strolled past unchallenged. How can they eject people without tickets if there are no checks at the entrances to the blocks?
Friends I was meeting inside reported seeing police tearing after people on the concourse. Apparently there were lots of phone thefts. One of my friends has his 13-year-old son with him. Inside the stadium, the police were chasing someone and the boy managed to trip them up. The police thanked him for saving someone’s phone.
HALF TIME: Italy 0-1 England
Wembley erupts again as the referee blows for half-time. England haven’t done a great deal in attack since Luke Shaw’s dramatic early goal, truth be told, but then they don’t really need to, and they’ve looked comfortable at the back. A few things for Roberto Mancini to work out. England are 45 minutes from glory!
45 min +4: Bonucci, the best part of 30 yards out, looks for the top-left corner. He finds the top-left corner of the stand behind the goal.
45 min +3: Italy are pressing hard to find an equaliser before the break, but England are holding firm.
45 min +1: Italy’s best move of the match comes as Di Lorenzo makes good down the right and whips a low cross into the box. Immobile meets it, 12 yards out, with a first-time swivel towards the bottom right. Stones gets his backside in the way to block, then Verratti fires weakly at Pickford, who claims easily.
45 min: Verratti wedges down the left, hoping to release Insigne, but Trippier intercepts and blooters clear. There will be four extra minutes added to this first half.
44 min: Kane loops a cross in from the right. Sterling is blocked on the edge of the box, allowing Donnarumma to come out and claim. Bonucci offers to help him up. Sterling isn’t having any of it, and waves him away with a frown. The first little bit of edge.
42 min: Stones heads Insigne’s inswinger clear. Italy pick up possession again and continue to probe. Wembley whistles in the pantomime style.
41 min: Immobile dribbles unconvincingly down the inside-right channel, but is clumsily fouled by Rice. A free kick that’ll be swung into the old mixer.
39 min: Insigne tries to release Immobile down the left. The flag goes up for offside, and Italy are again frustrated, though there wasn’t too much in that. Closer than it initially looked, and maybe the linesman was a bit hasty.
38 min: Emerson drives in from the left and loses control. He lunges after the ball and connects with Rice. No more than a free kick this time, though you’ve seen players booked for less. Emerson is fortunate that Rice didn’t make a big deal of it.
36 min: Shaw’s hustle down the left earns a chance to cross. He rolls across the face of the Italian six-yard box, but there’s nobody in white waiting to tap home. Emerson slices clear.
35 min: Chiesa comes in from the right, beating Rice with ease, and advances on the English box. He whistles a low drive inches wide of the bottom-right corner. Had that been on target, Pickford, his feet planted, was beaten all ends up. So close to an equaliser.
34 min: Kane beats Chiellini to a header and suddenly Mount and Sterling are combining at speed down the inside-right channel. A crisp one-two on the edge of the box nearly opens Italy up, but Bonucci reads the danger well and intercepts.
33 min: Italy push England back. Verratti has a chance to slip Emerson clear down the left, but he messes up a simple pass and it’s a goal kick. Chance for England to regroup after a period of Italian possession.
32 min: Italy ping some pretty triangles down the left, and for a second it looks as though Insigne is going to break into the England box. The door is slammed shut just in time, but the Italians suddenly look less jittery.
30 min: Italy string more passes together. It’s all good in the centre of the park, not so impressive whenever they try to advance into England’s final third. They’re not committing many men to their attacks. Not yet.
28 min: Insigne has no options, so decides to go for goal from 30 yards. A lame effort bobbles well wide of the left-hand post. He turns to his team-mates and delivers a few choice phrases.
27 min: Italy spend a bit of time on the ball in their own half, slowing things down a bit, perhaps calming the old nerves, which are still jangling away if their skittish play is anything to go by.
25 min: Jorginho is back. Seems he jarred his knee while trying to tackle an in-flight Sterling. Anyway, for now, he’s good to continue.
24 min: A bit of space down the right for Chiesa, whose low cross is no good and easily dealt with by the English back line. That early Maguire backpass apart, England have been the model of calm so far.
23 min: The game restarts, but without Jorginho, who is off the field now getting some more medical attention.
22 min: Jorginho is down and requires treatment. Time for everyone to take on some water, and for Roberto Mancini to deliver some beneficial tactical advice. Time also for us to let this sink in:
20 min: Kane loses possession in the middle of the park. Verratti and Insigne, having stripped him, prepare to break upfield, but Chiellini is fouled for a completely needless tug on Kane’s shirt. England’s captain presented with a get-out-of-jail card there by his opposite number.
18 min: Italy are slowly gaining a foothold in the game. A few passes, a bit of probing down both flanks. Nothing too much for England to worry about yet, but there are signs that their opponents are stirring after their nightmare start.
17 min: Jorginho shovels a clever pass down the inside-left channel to release Emerson. The Italy stand-in left-back can’t control, but wins a corner off Walker anyway. However the flag then goes up for offside. Italy are a study in frustration at the moment.
15 min: The corner’s worked back down the flank to Mount, who curls harmlessly into the arms of Donnarumma. England are getting a lot of joy down both flanks. Plenty of space to work with. Italy have a problem to solve.
14 min: Mount earns another England corner down the left, dropping a shoulder to force Jorginho into blocking out.
13 min: Donnarumma claims Trippier’s corner with ease. He tries to set Italy away on the counter, but his team-mates are a bit jittery right now, and can’t string anything together.
12 min: It’s teeming down at Wembley. Kane, quarterbacking from deep, slips Trippier into more space down the right. Trippier’s cross is too high for Sterling, but Di Lorenzo panics and concedes a corner under no pressure.
10 min: England are enjoying themselves down the right flank. First the goal, now Walker slips Trippier into space. The eventual low cross, meant for Sterling, is hacked clear by Chiellini. “You should know that Jose charges a thousand pounds per thought, a penny won’t do,” writes Mary Waltz. “Plus he will find a way to take credit for inspiring Shaw to greatness.”
8 min: Insigne tries to whip one over the England wall and into the top right. It’s always flying over the bar. Pickford had it covered anyway. “That most English of songwriters, Ian Dury, was a big fan of Adriano Celentano,” writes Kári Tulinius, “listing him as one of the reasons to be cheerful in his classic Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 3. Hopefully this match can be added to any future list of reasons to be cheerful.”
7 min: That’s given Italy a rare old rattle. But they finally string a few passes together, clearing their heads, and Chiesa dribbles dangerously down the inside-right channel. Shaw sticks out a leg and stops him illegally. A free kick in a very dangerous position.
5 min: It’s Luke Shaw’s 26th birthday tomorrow! He almost didn’t know what to do when the ball hit the net, standing there either admiring his handiwork or not immediately able to process the magnitude of what he’d just achieved. A beat later, he opened his arms out wide and raced off screaming.
4 min: Shaw’s shot clipped the woodwork and flew into the net in surreal slow-motion. That was one hell of a move, started and finished by the left-back! A penny for the thoughts of Jose Mourinho. Roberto Mancini certainly isn’t happy, gesticulating on the sideline in the Italian style. The goal, at one minute and 57 seconds, is the fastest ever in a European Championship final.
GOAL! Italy 0-1 England (Shaw 2)
Maguire makes amends by powering the corner clear with a determined header. England go up the other end. Shaw starts a counter down the left. The ball’s shuttled to the right wing by Kane to Trippier, who crosses long. Shaw meets it on the half-volley, six yards out, and lashes it off the inside of the left-hand post and into the net! What a start!
1 min: Early signs of English nerves as the home side play it around the back, only for Maguire to clumsily clank the ball out for the first corner. Pickford had no chance of controlling that backpass.
On comes the funny little radio-controlled car, delivering the ball to Italy, who get the Euro 2020 final underway ... but only after both teams take the knee. To great applause! If there were any boos, they were very much drowned out. Here we go, then!
Here come the teams! Giorgio Chiellini leads Italy out. They’re roundly booed. Harry Kane leads his team of young heroes - whatever happens - into the maelstrom. No going back now. Wembley erupts. Then the anthems, and some dolts do indeed give the Song of the Italians the bird, much to Chiellini’s high amusement. A knowing smile plays across his face. It really is a cracker, though: “Let us join in a cohort / We are ready to die / We are ready to die / Italy has called!” Then a happy and glorious rendition of God Save the Queen. Wembley is rocking and rolling. We’ll be off in a minute or two!
There’s a brief closing ceremony, as folk dance around a large model of the Henri Delaunay Cup waving shiny cardboard triangles. As routines go, it’s not as spectacular as this video of Prisencolinensinainciusol, but then what is? The Red Arrows fly over, leaving a trail of red, white and blue behind them. Then the man who scored the winner in the 2016 final, Eder of Portugal, comes out with the actual trophy. He shows it to all four corners, and the reign of the Portuguese is over. Will their successors be Italy ... or England? It’s close now!
Sweet Caroline is pumping out of the PA at Wembley, which is bouncing accordingly. One heck of an atmosphere. And here’s some more great news hot from the stadium, courtesy of 7.25pm’s Jennifer Craig, with an email entitled The magic of The Graun: “And they’re in. As soon as you mentioned them, the queue started moving. Thank you!” No worries, Jennifer, just glad to have been of inadvertent cosmic service. Enjoy the game!
The national anthems. As Gary Lineker says, Il Canto degli Italiani is indeed a belter, and God Save the Queen is what it is. But seeing we’ve been down both roads many times already during this tournament, let’s find something that embraces both cultures at once. The aforementioned Prisencolinensinainciusol, of course. Or how about Son of My Father by Italian pop genius Giorgio Moroder, later covered by Maidstone Moog enthusiasts Chicory Tip and part of the Great English Football Songbook ever since?
At a drizzly Wembley, the BBC ask Gareth Southgate what his final message to the players will be. “I’m done now!” he laughs. “It’s over to them! I’ve said my bit! They’re ready. They’re getting more and more big-match experience and they’ve coped with that really well throughout the tournament, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.” He looks lovely and relaxed. A fair bet that inside he’s churning, burning and yearning, but outwardly he’s the very picture of calm.
Jennifer Craig is at Wembley, waiting for her friends to get in. “Texting to say it’s a complete shambles,” she writes. “Queues (for people with tickets - obviously I don’t have ticketless friends) are just not moving. Hope they manage to get in before the game starts.” And on the subject of the security breach ...
Italy will be playing in their famous azure shirts this evening. Giorgio Chiellini will hand this lovely pennant to Harry Kane just before kick-off. England, for the first time in a major final, will sport first-choice white. Everything’s going to be a pretty picture. Just so.
Gareth Southgate has told ITV that his tactical switcheroo is an attacking powerplay, not a defensive one. “Italy cause you a tactical problem, they have a familiar way of playing and it is a problem which is difficult to resolve with a winger because he ends up defending in our own third of the pitch. We want to keep our attacking players higher up the pitch, which we hope will cause them a problem higher up. It’s an occasion that every message you read and everyone you see gets you more and more excited but we have to make good decisions on the field, we have to make sure we play with discipline but we also have to bring our best game. It is not a day to sit and be safe and worry about making mistakes. We have to be bold.”
Sir Geoff Hurst, hat-trick hero of 1966, speaks to the BBC. “The memories never go away. This atmosphere is absolutely manic, it’s crazy. It’s about a thousand times bigger now. Coming up the tunnel into that game, the backdraft from the crowd to the tunnel felt like the whole country was in the stadium. It was wonderful. Doing something like this in your own country, their lives will change, it’d be a magnificent achievement and they’d be remembered for ever.”
This morning’s build-up blog mentioned the 1972 single Prisencolinensinainciusol by the Italian singer-songwriter Adriano Celentano. The lyrics are utter nonsense, a satirical approximation of what American English sounds like to Italian ears, but the tune is an absolute stomper. It’s as catchy as hell, so if you don’t already know it, good luck getting it out of your brain if you decide to click on the video below.
To be honest, this video of the song is much better. As is this one. And yes I have been doing little else today. But the one above came to mind when Roberto Mancini’s right-hand man Gianluca Vialli took to the Wembley turf a while ago, so here we are. Enjoy, enjoy.
Gareth Southgate has made one change to the XI named for the semi-final win over Denmark, with Kieran Trippier coming in for Bukayo Saka. That means a change in formation to a 3-4-3, with Kyle Walker joining a three-man defence and Trippier playing at right wing-back. Phil Foden hasn’t recovered from the knock he picked up yesterday in training, and doesn’t make the bench.
Roberto Mancini names exactly the same starting XI as he did for Italy’s semi-final win over Spain. Leonardo Bonucci will play his 18th match at a European Championship finals, a record for the Azzurri as he overtakes Gianluigi Buffon.
Italy: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson, Barella, Jorginho, Verratti, Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne.
Subs: Sirigu, Locatelli, Belotti, Berardi, Pessina, Acerbi, Cristante, Bernardeschi, Bastoni, Florenzi, Toloi, Meret.
England: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Trippier, Phillips, Rice, Shaw, Mount, Sterling, Kane.
Subs: Grealish, Henderson, Rashford, Ramsdale, Mings, Coady, Sancho, Calvert-Lewin, Johnstone, James, Saka, Bellingham.
Referee: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland).
Let’s give those eejits the bodyswerve, and consider that, should Italy win this evening, Jorginho will become only the tenth player in history to win the European Cup and the European Championship in the same season. The Brazil-born Italian was a member of Chelsea’s victorious Champions League team in May. He’d follow Luis Suárez (Inter and Spain 1964), Hans van Breukelen, Ronald Koeman, Berry van Aerle and Gerald Vanenburg (PSV Eindhoven and the Netherlands 1988), Fernando Torres and Juan Mata (Chelsea and Spain 2012), and Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe (Real Madrid and Portugal 2016). Should England win, Mason Mount and, technically, Ben Chilwell would join the gang instead.
Meanwhile, four players have gone on to win the Euros immediately after tasting European Cup final defeat: Ignacio Zoco and Amancio Amaro (Real Madrid and Spain 1964) and Manny Kaltz and Horst Hrubesch (Hamburg and West Germany 1980). Should England win tonight, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Phil Foden and Raheem Sterling will soon forget about Manchester City’s Champions League final defeat to Chelsea in Porto.
For the record, only Michael Ballack (Chelsea and Germany 2008) and Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid and France 2016) have lost both finals in the same year. Walker, Stones, Foden and Sterling will be at pains to avoid that double whammy.
In addition to the Uefa statement, a spokesperson for Wembley says: “We are dealing with an incident that occurred at the outer security perimeter area of the stadium, with support from police. Safety measures were quickly activated in the relevant areas and there were no security breaches of people without tickets getting inside the stadium.”
Some fans attempt to storm into ground
Some unfortunate news to report, with some ticketless fans attempting to force their way into Wembley. Uefa have released this statement: “Fans have been jumping over barriers but there has been no access to the stadium, so there is no concern that any protocol has to come into place in which this stadium will be shut down. There is no concern that this final will not go ahead.”
A wee bit more anglo-Italian history, courtesy of Paul Hayes. “There’s also the 1949 encounter at White Hart Lane, a 2-0 win for England - notable, perhaps, because it is the earliest game for which some of the live TV coverage of the time still exists. Not much - just a few minutes of the first half, and in fact they never even recorded the goals as by the second half the light had become too poor for the experimental TV recording equipment of the time to cope with, so only the live viewers witnessed them. It’s also the only surviving example we have of the live commentary of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s predecessor, Jimmy Jewell. Anyway, it will therefore perhaps be fitting if tonight’s game takes 1966’s crown as the most-watched TV football game ever in the UK, given this fixture provides the earliest surviving footage of the sport on television.”
There’s no publicly available footage of Jewell’s groundbreaking TV turn, though you can hear some audio of his commentary in this marvellous documentary on BBC Sounds: Jimmy Jewell - The Lost Voice of Football. The England-Italy tale can be heard at 51m 20s.
Anyway, let’s spool forward to the present day. The England team bus is on its way from the Grove hotel in Watford to the date with destiny at Wembley. Fans cheered the squad off in the pleasant style. Meanwhile in Leicester Square, exuberance is very much the top note. “We’ve just come out of there because it was too much,” Thulase Sivasothy, 23, from south London told the Press Association. “They’re trying to barricade the road and everything. We were just in Soho now and it’s crazy. There’s so much passion in London today.” Meanwhile Eric Pinto, 23, from London added: “People are throwing beers. But that’s England, that’s how we celebrate. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like if we win. I’ve got a good feeling about tonight. Everything’s been going right up until now. It’s coming home.”
There have been more recent meetings, and England have not had the best of them. Tardelli scored the only goal when the teams met at Euro 80. Italy beat England into third place at the 1990 World Cup, a game mainly remembered for Roberto Baggio stealing the ball off a dozing Peter Shilton on the veteran keeper’s last outing in an England shirt. Andrea Pirlo made a jigging Joe Hart look utterly preposterous during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter finals at Euro 2012. Mario Balotelli’s header was the difference in Manaus at the 2014 World Cup. And there have been two 1-1 draws since, in Turin in 2015 and at Wembley in 2018, Andros Townsend and Jamie Vardy the English scorers in those respective tussles.
England’s most memorable result against Italy during the last 37 years, then? Forget a couple of friendly wins in 1997 and 2012; the best one was a draw in Rome in October 1997 which saw Glenn Hoddle’s side pip the Italians to automatic qualification for the following year’s World Cup in France. Payback for 1977, then, and yet a performance one suspects Italy will have secretly admired, too. The game ended 0-0, a resolute display of defensive brilliance, a tactical masterclass, a job executed with chilling efficiency. What had to be done, was done, no more, no less. As Italian as it gets.
On to the 1970s, and the next meaningful action between the two countries, who were drawn together in the qualifiers for the 1978 World Cup. The backdrop to those qualifiers was the 1976 Bicentennial Cup, ostensibly a friendly tournament to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the USA’s declaration of independence, featuring England, Italy, Brazil and, beating Trey Parker and Matt Stone to the punch by a good 28 years, Team America. The cup is best remembered for a rumble between the English and the Italians at the Yankee Stadium in New York which would certainly have benefitted from the attendance of some World Police. Italy were brilliant in the first half, Francesco Graziani of Torino scoring two and going close with another couple of efforts. But England turned it around completely in the first eight minutes of the second half, Mick Channon scoring twice, Phil Thompson once, Trevor Brooking pulling the strings. It was on! Again!
Italy lost the nut. Graziani clattered into Tony Towers. Giancarlo Antognini repeated the trick on the same player. Mauro Bellugi pestered Brooking in the roughhouse style. Phil Neal had his leg split open. In the last minute, Giacinto Facchetti thought he’d forced an equaliser, but it was disallowed because Fabio Capello had barged keeper Joe Corrigan to the floor. “Facchetti came off the ground at a run when the goal was disallowed,” recalled England defender Dave Clement, “and after going for the referee he took a swing at Mick Mills. I dived in to push him away but his mind had gone. He was so mad with frustration that he threw a couple of punches at me. Luckily they weren’t very good ones, and I was able to move my head out of the way. Fachetti moved off, but one of our fellows told me later that another Italian was getting a great big gob of spit ready to aim at me. I’m glad he didn’t get around to it.” Much good all this effort did for either team. For the record, Brazil topped the four-team mini-league, with Team America - starring various NASL types including Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Bobby Moore - trailing in last.
Italy had their revenge for that 3-2 defeat when the World Cup qualifiers came round. They won 2-0 in Rome, and though they lost the return fixture by the same score at Wembley, did enough in the other matches to make the 1978 World Cup at England’s expense on goal difference. The game at Wembley was another brouhaha. Kevin Keegan loosened the teeth of moustachioed nutcase Romeo Benetti, a foolish move for which the Juventus midfielder promised payback in full. He was as good as his word, settling the balance with one of the most gloriously cynical fouls of all time. Keegan - whose face had already been warmed up by Marco Tardelli’s meat-tenderising elbow - slid a gorgeous pass down the inside-right channel to send Brooking in to seal the 2-0 win. With all eyes on Brooking as he went about his business, Benetti arrived with perfect comic timing to clean Keegan out. A work of obscene genius, the darker side of Italian football in its purest form.
Italy won the 1938 World Cup as well, and were still reigning world champions in May 1948, when England again anointed themselves as Unofficial World Champions after another memorable victory. This result was more comprehensive and less controversial, a 4-0 win at the Stadio Communale in Turin. Stan Mortensen, Tommy Lawton and Tom Finney, twice, were the goalscoring heroes, and this was one of the great England teams - Stanley Matthews and Wilf Mannion completed perhaps the country’s strongest five-man forward line ever. But the Italians were no slouches either, their team containing seven of the dominant ‘Grande Torino’ side destined to perish in the Superga air disaster 353 days later.
England were magnificent, although whether they deserved to win by *four* is a moot point. Mortensen scored early, after which Italy pushed the visitors back with extreme prejudice. Romeo Menti and Guglielmo Gabetto both tucked the ball past England keeper Frank Swift - who would be killed in the Munich crash of 1958; this really was an ill-fated collection of stars - but the goals were ruled out for offside. Gabetto then saw a shot cleared off the line by Laurie Scott, and began pummelling the ground in impotent frustration. Matthews dribbled up the other end to set up Lawton. Two-nil after 24 minutes, against the run of play. And still Italy weren’t done. According to the report in the Guardian, Swift then made five spectacular saves during the period before half-time, three of them in one frenzied attack, the legendary Valentino Mazzola at one point heaving into view carrying the kitchen sink.
The second half continued in the same vein. Italy pressed and pressed, but became increasingly weary. Their startled players found themselves being revived by jets of water dispatched from a soda siphon by double World Cup winning manager and wannabe barkeep Vittorio Pozzo. But England hit them with a sucker punch, and one of the great counter-attacking goals, Swift throwing out to Scott, who found Mannion, who in turn fed Lawton, who finally slipped the ball forward for Finney to round Valerio Bacigalupo for the third. Finney scored again to make it four, and would later claim the result to be the high-watermark of England’s efforts, 1966 included. England had certainly impressed the knowledgable home crowd, some of whom went home under the mistaken impression that Matthews, the flash bugger, had at one point whipped out a comb to style his hair mid-dribble! Turns out he was just wiping a bead of sweat off his brow, a terrible shame, the mundane truth a hammer blow. Print the legend.
But how about the English, huh? Unofficial world champions! Sadly the claim rings a little hollow with the benefit of hindsight. Italy may have been technically reigning champs, but their second title had been won a full ten years earlier, the war having got in the way. And England would thoroughly embarrass themselves at their first World Cup in Brazil two years later, the USA and Joe Gaetjens snapping everything into shameful perspective. Italy had a shocker too, rocking up on a cruise boat all fat and bloated, but they at least had the excuse of not wanting to fly in the wake of Superga, which among its 31 victims had claimed the aforementioned Bacigalupo, Gabetto, Menti and Mazzola.
England and Italy have plenty of history. The teams met for the first time in May 1933 at the Stadio Nazionale del Partito Nazionale Fascista in Rome (begins a slightly updated, no-clicking-required version of this). The game ended 1-1, Cliff Bastin of English champions Arsenal cancelling out an early goal by Giovanni Ferrari of Italian champs Juventus. There wasn’t much of a gulf in quality, but when Italy arrived in London in November 1934, they were the newly crowned winners of the World Cup, a competition the English had been too haughty to enter. England nevertheless claimed they were the best team in the world, so with matters of status uppermost in everyone’s mind, a hotly contested brouhaha was almost inevitable.
The game would come to be known as the Battle of Highbury. “Possibly the Italians were bewildered at the beginning of the struggle,” reported the Manchester Guardian. “They may have been nervous. They may have had a slight attack of football fright.” And perhaps with good reason. Within 120 seconds of kickoff, their influential midfielder Luis Monti – who had reached the 1930 World Cup final with the country of his birth, Argentina, then won the thing four years later as a naturalised Italian - had his ankle broken by a no-nonsense challenge from Ted Drake. English forward Eric Brook meanwhile started the match in some style. He saw a first-minute penalty saved by Carlo Ceresoli. (“The cohorts of Italy cheered and Englishmen wondered what sort of a goalkeeper was this leaping acrobat,” reported this paper.) He then made up for the miss in double-quick time, with goals in the third and 10th minutes. Drake made it 3-0 a couple of minutes later. It was a whirlwind start, and Italy were all over the shop. World champions? These?
But Italy fought back, and not just figuratively. Giuseppe Meazza scored two goals in four second-half minutes, and would have had a hat-trick were it not for the crossbar. “The Italians were very excitable,” reported the referee after England held on for a signature 3-2 win. Injuries outnumbered goals. England captain Eddie Hapgood suffered a broken nose, Ray Bowden could barely walk on an injured ankle, Drake had his legs “shred to ribbons”, Brook needed an x-ray on his arm, and Jack Barker required strapping on a hand. Ceresoli meanwhile had taken an awful whack in his trouser arrangement, and arrived at an FA banquet that night looking pale and queasy, taking great care not to swallow too hard.
The Italian press considered their embattled team a “platoon of gladiators”. The FA were less circumspect, and for a while considered pulling their representative side out of all international matches. But they eventually calmed down, perhaps realising that for better or worse, the Battle of Highbury was a match for the ages. In fact, it’s probably the single most famous game ever staged at the grand old stadium, which is saying something seeing Arsenal played there for 93 years.
London, to borrow a phrase from the legendary Brian Glanville’s narration to the film Goal!, is en fête. Thousands of fans milled around Leicester Square, enjoyed some al fresco libation, left the empties on the floor (presumably for Scotland fans to clean up, if tournament history is any guide) and moved on to the Trafalgar Square fan zone. Meanwhile at the 229 club, the Lightning Seeds were joined on stage by Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and Geoff Hurst for a rousing rendition of
Two Lions. Needless to say, it went down well, disproportionately so, some might argue, but let’s not be the fun police. “I said to my wife that it was my Woodstock moment,” David Smith, 51, from Grimsby, told the Press Association. “I started crying, I was so emotional. To see Sir Geoff Hurst introduce the best song ever. This is our time.”
Some early team news. Well, early team gossip. Rumours suggest that Gareth Southgate will name three centre-backs this evening. Kyle Walker will shift in from the right, with Kieran Trippier patrolling that flank as a wing-back. Bukayo Saka may well be the unfortunate player to make way, though it’s worth noting that when England last used this formation, for the 2-0 win over Germany, it was Mason Mount who missed out, albeit due to Covid regulations. Phil Foden missed yesterday’s final training session and remains a doubt.
It’s been 54 years, 11 months and 11 days since Bobby Moore found Geoff Hurst with that long rake down the inside-left channel, some people making their way onto the Wembley pitch under the misguided impression it was all over.England have been waiting patiently for another It Is Now! moment ever since. Well, here we are. A second major title has never been so close. Is it now? God speed, you three lions. Oh, and best of luck to Italy as well, because the MBM is fair like that. May the best team win.
Whatever happens tonight, history will be kind to Euro 2020. Its legacy is rock-solid, water-tight, air-locked, vacuum-sealed and double-vaxxed. It’s been a blast from the get-go, and the best two teams have made it to the end. It’s unquestionable. Spain, Belgium, Croatia and France took turns to be beautiful but fragile; Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic and Denmark delivered way more than anyone seriously expected; Cristiano Ronaldo continued his successful battle against the dying of the light; Christian Eriksen lives another day to fight another fight. Thank you, kind gods of football. Grazie.
But look at what Italy and England have been up to. Roberto Mancini’s side have emerged triumphant from every single game of their campaign, from the start of the qualifiers to here. They’re exciting in attack, typically staunch in defence. They look unbeatable. Then again, so do Gareth Southgate’s England, who have conceded just one goal in these finals so far, and come at you from all angles up the other end. Italy have seen off Belgium and Spain, while England sent Germany packing at the business end of a tournament for the first time since … yeah, you know. The two best teams of the finals? Is there really any doubt?
Something has to give, though, and soon enough we’ll find out who and/or what that is. So having referenced the high-end improv skills of legendary BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme, can we please also give a nod to his ITV counterpart, the equally mellifluous – albeit not quite so eloquent on that heady 1966 afternoon – Hugh Johns, who, when Sir Geoff was roofing the final blow to West Germany’s hopes, extemporised thus: “Here’s Hurst, he might make it three. He has! He has. So that’s it. That’s IT!” Kick off tonight is 8pm at Wembley; 9pm in Rome. It’s on! It’s ON!