Italy beat Spain 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw in a magnificent Euro 2020 semifinal at Wembley on Tuesday, as Jorginho converted the decisive kick to take the Azzurri through to the final of a tournament in which they have been the outstanding side.
They were not always on top in this game though, with Spain the better side for long spells of an epic contest before Federico Chiesa, the Juventus forward, gave Italy the lead with a fabulous finish an hour into a match watched by a crowd of almost 58,000.
The much-maligned Alvaro Morata, who was dropped from the starting line-up here, came off the bench to equalise with 10 minutes of normal time left.
No further scoring in extra time meant penalties again for Spain, who had beaten Switzerland in a shoot-out in the quarterfinals.
They had also beaten Italy on penalties at Euro 2008, but this time misses from Dani Olmo and then Morata saw Spain give up the advantage they had been handed when Manuel Locatelli failed with the first kick in the shoot-out.
The Italians celebrated at the end with a large contingent of their UK-based supporters, and a team that has been rejuvenated under Roberto Mancini continues to dream of winning a first European Championship title since 1968.
Now unbeaten in 33 games, they go through to Sunday's final to face either England or Denmark, who meet in Wednesday's second last-four tie.
It is nine years since Spain mauled Italy 4-0 in the Euro 2012 final in Kiev to win a third consecutive major tournament, and this was the fourth consecutive European Championship in which these powerhouses had met.
- WEMBLEY COMES TO LIFE -
This time they did so in the chill of a damp July evening in London, but the atmosphere at Wembley was anything but a damp squib.
Both coaches had spoken on the eve of this semifinal of their disappointment that there would be no travelling supporters, given the obligatory quarantine for all visitors to the United Kingdom.
However, they were not counting on the large Spanish and Italian communities already in Britain, and a combined 20,000 fans of the two teams were in the 57,811-crowd allowed inside Wembley.
They added a noise and colour so sadly lacking at major sporting events since the pandemic began, and that provided the perfect stage.
The football itself was absorbing and of the very highest quality, particularly in midfield where Italy's outstanding trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella met their match in Spain's Sergio Busquets, Koke and Pedri.
The latter, just 18, is a frightening talent and his touch and calmness on the ball indicate he will be Spain's leader for many years to come.
- MORATA FROM HERO TO VILLAIN -
What the game lacked in the first half was drama in front of goal, although Italy's Gianluigi Donnarumma made one crucial save to deny Dani Olmo in the 25th minute.
Italy missed Leonardo Spinazzola, their outstanding left-back who suffered a torn Achilles tendon against Belgium in the quarterfinals.
Meanwhile, Spain coach Luis Enrique dropped Morata and selected Mikel Oyarzabal to start on their right flank up front.
Spain had enjoyed the better of the game but Italy went ahead on the hour thanks to a goal of the highest quality.
A move that started with Donnarumma's throw out saw Lorenzo Insigne play Ciro Immobile in behind.
Immobile was thwarted by Aymeric Laporte's tackle but the ball fell to Chiesa and he picked his spot in the far corner of Unai Simon's goal on his right foot.
The Italian fans, gathered en masse at that end of Wembley, erupted in celebration.
Spain reacted by sending on Morata and Gerard Moreno, and just as Italy looked to be seeing out the victory, Morata was the man who got the leveller.
After collecting the ball midway inside the opposition half, Morata played a one-two with Olmo as he cut through the defence and slotted in.
It was a deserved equaliser, and Spain had a spring in their step going into extra time, but they could not take that into the decisive shoot-out.
- Italy have now reached their 10th major tournament final (World Cup/Euros), progressing to the final of the European Championships for the fourth time (also 6 World Cup finals). Indeed, only Germany (14) have participated in more major tournament finals amongst European nations than Italy (incl. Euro 2020).
- Spain have failed to progress from a semi-final at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) for the first time in their history, having reached the final from each of their previous five semi-final appearances.
- Italy are only the second European nation to win each of their first six games at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros) after Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup. Indeed, Italy’s six wins at Euro 2020 is their joint-most victories at a single major tournament alongside World Cup 1990.
- This was the 10th occasion both Spain and Italy have competed in a penalty shootout at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros), more than any other European nations. Tonight, was the second time the two sides have faced off in a shootout at a major tournament (Spain won in 2008), with each side now picking up a victory apiece.
- Italy versus Spain (10) became the most played fixture amongst European nations in major tournament history (Euro/World Cups).
- This was the ninth time Italy have gone to extra time at the EURO's, more than any other team, while Spain equalled the record for extra time appearances at a single edition of the competition (3 - level with Portugal in 2016).
- Italy have scored 12 goals at Euro 2020, their joint-highest total at a major tournament (World Cups/Euros) alongside World Cup 2006, World Cup 1982, and World Cup 1934. Indeed, Spain have scored 13 goals at Euro 2020, their best goal return at a single edition of the European Championships.
- Italy became just the second side in European Championship history to have as many as five different players score 2+ goals at a single edition of the competition (Chiesa, Pessina, Insigne, Immobile & Locatelli), after France in 2000.
- Alvaro Morata has scored more goals at the European Championships than any other Spain player (6), overtaking Fernando Torres' five goals. In fact, Morata became the first ever Spanish player to score for club and country at Wembley Stadium.
- Federico Chiesa has scored twice in his last three games for Italy, more than in his first 28 appearances for the Azzurri combined (1).
- Leonardo Bonucci made his 17th appearance for Italy at the European Championships, the joint-most for the Azzurri alongside Gianluigi Buffon, while Jordi Alba became Spain’s joint-record appearance holder at the Euros alongside Cesc Fábregas and Andrés Iniesta (16).
- Spain’s Pedri became the first European player in major tournament history (World Cup/EUROs) to start as many as six such matches at the age of 18 or below. (AFP)
Source: News Express
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