It was a repeat of the Euro 2012 final but this time around, it was in Wembley in London rather than the Olympic Stadium in Kyiv. The prize at stake was not a Euro crown but a chance to one and the Azurri earned that prize.
The end may not be beautiful; having to be settled via penalties which most consider an act of luck. But wait, it is also an art of skills, a mindset activity that carries with it a flux of anxiety. The Italians got theirs right and are assured of a date at Wembley to face either a shrewd English side or an emblematic Danish side that is well on course to emerge national heroes, should they scale the hurdle successfully.
Roberto Mancini made one alteration to his Italian side, an enforced one to be precise, Emerson stepping in for the injured Leonardo Spinazzola who Bonnuci promised the Azurri will fight to honour. Emerson did not disappoint as he was the one to produce the Azurri’s only shot in the first 45 minutes, one which came on the stroke of halftime. He would then be replaced later in the game when the former Manchester City manager wanted to shore up things after they took the lead in the 60th minute through Federico Chiesa.
Luis Enrique shuffled his pack by bringing in Eric Garcia to partner Laporte at the back and dropping the inconsistent Morata for Mikel Oyarzabal and Dani Olmo for Pau Torres. Supervising his side to dominate possession showed how they were ready to run the Italians rug for their money but the rate at which his side fluffed their chances was amazingly disheartening. Olmo and Oyarzabal have been effective off the bench but thrusting them into the starting XI did not offer the same results.
Italy playing on the back foot for the majority of the match took the chances that came their way and the most important of them came in the 60th minute when Ciro Immobile picked out Chiesa and the Juventus man curled it neatly past Unai Simon to lift the spirit of the Azurri. And it was their quick counters that got them the goal as Donnaruma made a save and set them off quickly.
Enrique responded to the goal with a substantial call, bringing on Morata for Torres. The Atletico Madrid man then turns out to pull his side back into the game, a testament to why he has the trust of his manager who had to defend him several times against fans questioning his ability to deliver for La Roja. The former Chelsea man dropped deep to receive the ball from Laporte, drove through the middle of the field before exchanging a one-two with Olmo to open up space and then slotting past Donnaruma to cap a perfect return to the pitch.
As the time ticked and no side was sure of getting the ball into the opposition’s net to settle it, they knew they would have to do it in extra time or go through the spot which La Roja had already experienced in their last match. But it wouldn’t always be your chance every time to get the dice right and today it was La Roja’s turn to experience the heartbreak after a dominating 120 minutes of football.
Stepping up first, Locatelli could not get his kick past Unai Simon as he had his kick saved by the Bilabo guardsman. Donnaruma was expected to keep his side in the hunt by also saving the opponent’s kick but he didn’t need to do anything as Olmo skewed his kick well over the bar.
Belotti, Moreno, Bonnuci, Thiago and Bernadeschi all scored for their sides and Morata was next to keep it level for the Spaniards but his tame shot meant Donnaruma had a comfortable save to put his side in front and now wait for Jorginho to send them through. The Brazil-born Italian did that expertly as he went with his trademark hop and wrong-footed Simon before slotting calmly into the net to take his side to the cusps of a major trophy for the first time in 15 years.
La Roja came, took time to set off and looked destined to follow Portugal’s triumphant story in winning it as slow starters, little did they know they would come so close and be denied. Morata has shown his two faces in one match; the saviour and the villain. His story with the La Roja fans continues.
For the Azurri, it is just a match away from wiping away the pain of their 2018 absence from Russia and once again writing their name among the top sides. But till the celebration begins for Mancini stylish side, they must ensure Denmark or England never take their champagne out from the fridge.