It was penalty shootout heartbreak again for England and Gareth Southgate, as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed from the spot in a crushing Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy.
When Jordan Pickford saved from Andrea Belotti there was real hope of a first major trophy in 55 years and ultimate redemption for Southgate, who missed a decisive spot-kick in the semi-final of Euro 96, but from the brink of glory in front of their own supporters at Wembley, England collapsed.
Rashford rolled a tame shot against the post and Sancho and Saka saw player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma save their efforts in a 3-2 shootout defeat, sparking celebrations from the Italian players and the small but vocal cluster of their fans at the other end of the pitch.
Luke Shaw had given England a dream start, scoring his first goal for his country and the fastest of a Euros final ever, when he met a deep cross with a thumping half-volley just three minutes in. Southgate's surprise wing-back system was causing Italy real problems but Roberto Mancini's side wrestled control of possession and set about wearing their opponents down.
The penalty shoot-out
The deserved equaliser eventually came from a set-piece, with veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci tapping in after a scramble on 67 minutes and, at 34 years old, becoming the oldest goalscorer in a Euros final. He was also one of three Italians to find the net from 12 yards at the end of extra-time to seal their second Euros crown, after their first in 1968.
For England's players, though, there was only despair. Southgate tried to console Rashford, Sancho and Saka but he knows himself how badly they will be feeling.
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The manager will be able to talk about the progress of his young side, how they have made the country unite behind them in hope, and point to a chance to go again at the World Cup in 16 months' time. But there will also be a cold, cruel realisation that England's glorious chance to win it on their own patch has been lost.
Italy: Donnarumma (7), Di Lorenzo (6), Bonucci (6), Chiellini (7), Emerson (4), Barella (4), Jorginho (7), Verratti (7), Chiesa (8), Immobile (5), Insigne (6).
Subs used: Cristante (6), Berardi (6), Bernardeschi (5), Belotti (5), Locatelli (5), Florenzi (N/A)
England: Pickford (8), Waker (6), Stones (8), Maguire (8), Trippier (6), Shaw (6), Rice (6), Phillips (6), Mount (4), Sterling (6), Kane (5).
Subs used: Saka (10), Grealish (5), Henderson (5), Rashford (N/A), Sancho (N/A)
Man of the match: Gianluigi Donnarumma
How the cup was won...
In contrast to the dejected mood of the England supporters as Italy celebrated, hours before kick-off, Wembley Way was flooded with fans, waving flares and booting footballs, drinking and chanting for their heroes. The supporters numbered far in excess of the 60,000 lucky enough to have tickets, with thousands making the pilgrimage to the national stadium to be a part of the historic occasion.
That enthusiasm and desire to support the team over-spilled on several occasions, with some trying to force their way into the stadium. They were unsavoury scenes but did not detract from the incredible atmosphere created by supporters inside the ground, with the crescendo at kick-off unlike anything the new Wembley has witnessed before.
Italy were unchanged for the final, while England brought in Kieran Trippier for Bukayo Saka to switch to a back three.
That noise went to a whole new level just moments after the first whistle. Italy had won an early corner but England counter-attacked rapidly, with Harry Kane shuttling the ball out wide to Kieran Trippier, who delivered a fantastic cross to the back post for Shaw to lash home a brilliant half-volley.
What a hit it was for his first goal for his country, and what a start to the final for England, who continued to cause real problems down the right side, with Emerson struggling to prevent Trippier from delivering two more crosses in quick succession.
The rain began to fall and the pitch quickened up, but it was still England fastest to every loose ball, sharpest with their touch and attacking with real pace. There were cheers from the England supporters as first Kalvin Phillips and then Harry Maguire confidently carried the ball out of defence past blue shirts, before sarcastic applause greeted Lorenzo Insigne's dragged drive wide.
The jeers were more nervous when Federico Chiesa, trying to single-handedly get his side back on track, fired just past the upright on 35 minutes after a spell of Italian pressure. Mancini's side remained on the front foot but struggled to see a way through the walls of white shirts, with Ciro Immobile's shot blocked by John Stones and Marco Verratti's follow up easy for Pickford.
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England thought they had made another fast start at the beginning of the second half, when Raheem Sterling hit the deck in the box as he tried to wriggle past two Italy defenders but his penalty appeals were waved away and replays showed it was the forward trying to initiate contact.
He was then almost punished for a foul of his own at the other end, with Insigne clipping a free-kick just off target. The tricky winger badly miscued another effort soon after but he was the Italians' main threat, firing at Pickford from a tight angle after being forced wide in the box by Stones and Kyle Walker.
England's No 1 had to be even sharper to keep out Chiesa's low drive with his left hand moments later before Stones landed his side's first shot on target since the goal from a corner, forcing Donnarumma to tip over.
It was an Italian corner which brought the equaliser, though. The ball travelled to the back post, where Verratti directed a header at goal. Pickford managed to tip it onto the inside of his post but Bonucci reacted quickest to stick it away.
Southgate's response was to send on Saka and switch his side to 4-3-3 - but they almost fell behind when Domenico Berardi connected with Bonucci's long pass over the top on the volley, sending his effort over with Pickford out of his goal.
The momentum seemed to be with Italy but an injury to Chiesa stalled the game and England were better for the breather, with Mason Mount combining with Shaw and crossing for Saka, Shaw firing over, and Sterling running from deep into the Italian box.
Saka looked to have broken free near the halfway line on the stroke of full-time but he was cynically hauled down by Giorgio Chiellini, who was booked, and, for the second match in a row, these teams were forced into extra-time.
Chiellini showed the more admirable side of his game five minutes after the restart, making a crucial block after Sterling drove into the box, before Phillips shot wide from the resulting corner. With England's tails suddenly up, Jack Grealish was thrown into the action. The maverick clearly worried Italy's defenders as soon as he got on the ball - but it was the Azzurri next to go close.
Emerson's cross was just missed by Federico Bernardeschi and forced away by Pickford before Bernardeschi's shot was blocked by Phillips in the next move.
Bernardeschi hit a free-kick straight at Pickford at the start of the second half before Wembley gasped at the other end as first Grealish saw a shot in the box blocked and then a cross was just out of the reach of Stones, as Donnarumma punched clear.
The Aston Villa ace was beginning to make England tick again, despite getting Jorginho studs in his thigh during one painful collision, but by this stage attentions were turning towards the looming penalty shoot-out, with Rashford and Sancho sent on by Southgate.
Perhaps it was inevitable that England's destiny in their first final since 1966 would be decided by what has been the major talking point of their shortcomings in these competitions in modern times. They hoped to have put their poor record from 12 yards to bed at Russia 2018 when they beat Colombia - but it was a familiar tale of despair from the spot.
Pickford had Wembley believing when he denied Belotti but Rashford and Sancho handed the advantage back to Italy and although Jorginho surprisingly missed the chance to wrap it up, Saka's effort was saved to send the trophy Italy's way.
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Italy manager Roberto Mancini: "It was impossible even to just consider this at one stage, but the guys were just amazing. I have no words for them, this is a wonderful group. This was a difficult game made a lot harder after their early goal. Apart from that early spell, we dominated the match.
"You have to have a little luck on penalties. I feel a little sorry for England, because they also had a great tournament. The team has grown a lot and I think we can improve further. We are very happy for all Italians. I have no words for these guys!"
England manager Gareth Southgate: "I chose the penalty takers based on what we've done in training and nobody is on their own. We've won together as a team and it's absolutely on all of us in terms of not being able to win the game tonight.
"But in terms of the penalties, that's my call and totally rests with me.
"We're hugely disappointed because firstly, the players have been an absolute credit. They've given everything they possibly could tonight, they've run themselves into the ground. At times, they played really well and at times, we didn't keep the ball quite well enough, especially at the beginning of the second half.
"But they can't have any recriminations. They've been a joy to work with and they've gone further than we have for so long, but tonight, it is incredibly painful in that dressing room... You have to feel that disappointment because the opportunities to win trophies like this are so rare in your life.
"But when they reflect on what they've done, they should be very proud of themselves."
It was penalty shootout heartbreak again for England and Gareth Southgate in a crushing Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy.
Alice Piper is joined by Pete Smith and Gerard Brand to reflect on a dramatic Euro 2020 final, with England unable to mark their progress with the silverware.
Opta stats - England's painful defeat in numbers
- Italy have won their second European Championship title, and first in 53 years (also 1968); it's the longest ever gap between championships in the tournament by a single nation, surpassing Spain's 44-year wait from 1964 to 2008.
- Italy have won their sixth major tournament title (4 World Cup, 2 Euros); among European nations, only Germany (7) have won more.
- England have won just 22% (2/9) of their major tournament shootouts (World Cup/Euros), the lowest ratio of any European nation to have been involved in three or more.
- Italy found themselves trailing in a game for the first time at Euro 2020, while overall they spent 65 minutes behind against England in the final, 21 more than they had been behind in their 33-game unbeaten run (in all competitions) coming into the final (44).
- Gareth Southgate has made at least one change to the England starting XI for 37 consecutive matches, making a total of 200 changes in that time and last staying with the same starting line-up in the 2018 World Cup semi-final.
- Against Italy, Harry Kane failed to muster a shot or create a goal-scoring chance for only the second time in his 61 appearances for England, also doing so in a friendly against Switzerland in September 2018.
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