Italy's men's national team has won the European Championships for the first time since 1968 after a penalty shootout victory over England at Wembley. For England, 55 years of hurt go on.
FT: Italy 1-1 England - Italy win Euro 2020 after beating England in a penalty shootout
(Bonucci 67' - Shaw 2')
"Football's coming home," they sung – but in the end it went to Rome, as Leonardo Bonucci screamed into the television cameras.
For the first time since 1968, and just three years after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy's men's national team has won the European Championship thanks to victory over England at Wembley.
For England, it came in the most devastating of manners — more penalty shootout heartbreak in a major tournament. Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, both brought on as late substitutes to take penalties, both missed for England, as did teenager Bukayo Saka.
But for Italy, it's the fairytale culmination to Roberto Mancini's three years in charge and a moment of cathartic redemption for a nation which has suffered so much over the past 18 months of the pandemic.
Andrea Belotti and Jorginho also missed for Italy in the dramatic shootout, but goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was the hero after saving twice.
"No-one expected this from us three years ago," said a surprisingly controlled Mancini at full-time. "The lads, I don't know what to say, they were fantastic. And the fans — it's so important for everyone."
Asked whether he had achieved both his pre-tournament aims of "winning while playing good football," he replied: "Yes, we've done that."
Nightmare start for Italy
Almost exactly three hours earlier, with the sky still blue over Wembley, it all looked very different for the Azzurri who fell behind to a second-minute Luke Shaw volley which sent an already rocking Wembley into ecstasy. It was the fastest ever goal in a European Championship final and England, after decades of disappointment at major tournaments, had finally come to play. Italy looked stunned by the occasion, but they got to half-time just one goal down.
"Italy have to get creative and use the wings more, because England's midfield with [Declan] Rice and [Kalvin] Phillips are too good," opined German legend Jürgen Klinsmann on BBC television at half-time. "Italy need to get in between the lines but that's difficult against England because they press and squeeze so well."
Clearly, Mancini was having the same thoughts, because that's exactly what his team did, drawing level through Leonardo Bonucci just after the hour mark, the veteran defender reacting quickest during a goalmouth scramble. And Italy never looked back, ultimately triumphing in that dramatic penalty shootout where Italian experience prevailed over English youth.
Having hoisted the trophy into the now-blackened sky, the Italian players, coaches and medical staff raced over to their few thousand supporters behind one goal. One thousand had been permitted to travel from Italy for the final, exempt from strict quarantine regulations as part of a so-called "bubble trip."
They were in their own separate section, but were joined in neighboring blocks by a few thousand more UK-based Italians carrying signs and banners with slogans like "Football's Coming to Rome" or the "The Italian Job" — barbed references to English football and pop culture.
From 'biological bomb' to emotional explosion
And how those fans deserved to celebrate. Italy was the European nation which suffered first, and arguably most, from coronavirus — and football played a tragic role in that.
On March 10, 2020, Bergamo-based side Atalanta played Valencia in a Champions League game held at Milan's San Siro stadium. Over 44,000 people attended the event, which Bergamo's mayor would later describe as a "biological bomb."
Shortly after, the number of coronavirus cases in the province of Bergamo had skyrocketed, while deaths surged across the northern region of Lombardy. The military was soon transporting coffins through deserted streets. Italy's pandemic nightmare had begun. But coronavirus wasn't the only existential health crisis which this Italy team has had to overcome.
Italian legend Gianluca Vialli was included in the traveling party as "capo delegazione," Italy's "delegation chief," back by the side of his former Sampdoria strike partner Mancini after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Also in the squad was Francesco Acerbi, the 33-year-old former AC Milan ultra and notorious party animal whose career and life were turned upside down by testicular cancer in 2014.
And when left-back Leonardo Spinazzola, one of the stand-out players of the entire tournament, ruptured his Achilles tendon in the quarterfinal against Belgium, his teammates rallied behind him. Spinazzola was at Wembley on crutches, picking up his own gold medal as his colleagues sang "Spina! Spina!" in his honor.
Mancini and Vialli's Italian Renaissance
Mancini himself hasn't suffered in a physical sense, but he has had his own personal demons to overcome with the Italian national team. Despite earning legendary status with his 168 goals in 566 games for Serie A side Sampdoria from 1982 to 1997, Mancini only managed four goals in 36 appearances for his country.
He was famously an unused substitute at Italia '90, and acrimoniously pulled out of Italy's squad for the World Cup in the United States four years later, having been demoted to at least third in the striking pecking order behind Roberto Baggio and Gianfranco Zola.
He took over the head coach job with Italy at their lowest ever ebb, having failed to qualify for a World Cup for the first time since 1958. Since then, his team has lost just twice.
Their victory at Wembley extended their current unbeaten run to 34 games — by far the best team at Euro 2020, and now with the trophy prove it.