Euro 2020 Chronicles – Part Five: The Perfect Final

Euro 2020

Euro 2020 brought us countless unforgettable moments, both good and bad, especially during the knockout phase.  This is the fifth and final article in a series that tells the many stories of this summer’s competition.

Euro 2020 Chronicles

Italy Edge Out Spain

The semi-final between Italy and Spain started off energetically, but calmed down after a few minutes; a skill Gianluigi Donnarumma would also have to master after a couple of failed goal kicks almost gifted Spain the lead. In the end, those failures may have actually instead enabled the Azzurri to get in front, because Donnarumma’s throw in the 60th minute was instrumental to the Italian counter-attack succeeding, as was Federico Chiesa’s impeccable finish. Despite dominating possession, La Roja failed to convert it into any goals, until the 80th minute when Morata proved his doubters wrong once and for all by becoming Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer at the Euros.

Extra time was inevitable. Federico Bernardeschi was the last player to enter the pitch, Italy’s sixth substitute. It was the first time UEFA had permitted so many substitutions at a tournament, a decision reached a few months before the final to help players cope with the fixture congestion brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Bernardeschi proved to be an excellent replacement, scoring clinically in the penalty shoot-out. One of many solid Italian penalties, and a solid (to say the least) performance by Donnarumma, who took Italy to the final despite them being shrouded in doubt ahead of the championship.  

Mikkel Damsgaard Stuns England

Few countries, if any, can claim they have a positive competitive record against England at Wembley. Denmark are (was) one of them, having defeated the Three Lions as recently as October 2020. But the stakes were different now. The Euro 2020 final was in the prize pool. Some English fans booed the Danish national anthem; a recurring problem during the tournament. A few even set off fireworks. English fans weren’t the only perpetrators, but, as the country with the most matches played at home, they were the most noticeable.

Denmark got a surprisingly good start against England, holding their own for a long time. The Three Lions were beyond motivated to reach their first final since 1966 and eagerly awaited the opening goal, and it came in the 30th minute. Mikkel Damsgaard once again blessed Denmark with a remarkable strike. This time it was a free-kick, the first goal England conceded in the tournament and one that some people claim should’ve been disallowed due to Danish strikers not keeping an appropriate distance from the wall, thus potentially blocking out Jordan Pickford’s view. But given how vigorously Damsgaard struck the ball, it’s doubtful it made any difference.

England Breaks Danish Hearts Amid Controversies

England fought back and equalized thanks to a Simon Kjaer own goal that would’ve done greater justice being attributed to Raheem Sterling, their best player of the tournament. He’d soon be in the spotlight again. This deadlock could not be broken in 90 minutes. As the first half of extra-time was nearing its end, Sterling fell in the penalty area after a light touch from Joakim Maehle. He arguably started descending before contact was made, though. There was no hesitation from the Dutch referee who pointed at the spot. The talismanic Harry Kane stepped up to take it. “England’s priceless gem”, as commentator Peter Drury had called him. Kasper Schmeichel saved Kane’s initial spot-kick, but England’s priceless gem converted the rebound. It was a goal shrouded in controversy for more than one reason. 

Several pundits criticised the decision, one of them being José Mourinho. He expressed his concerns with the penalty decision, despite also praising England for their performance: “It’s never a penalty. The best team won, England deserved to win. England was fantastic, but for me it’s never a penalty,” Mourinho told TalkSPORT. 

A view shared by the English match official, Mark Clattenburg, who also explained why VAR didn’t overturn the decision: I don’t think the tackle warranted a spot-kick in such a key moment. The Danes will argue it was harsh. But again it wasn’t a clear and obvious error,” he said. 

Furthermore, Danish goalkeeper Schmeichel had a laser pointed at him before the decisive penalty was taken. The search for the culprit(s) was unsuccessful. In total, UEFA fined the FA £25,630 for the various incidents.

The Perfect Euro 2020 Final       

Controversies aside, England had done brilliantly to reach their first European final ever. It’s important we don’t let bad apples in the stands taint the reputation of innocent players on the pitch. It was the perfect final. The best offence against the best defence. Two traditional football powers eager to redeem themselves in a final hosted by one of the participating countries. People could hardly contain their excitement, and some definitely couldn’t restrain it. More specifically, the fans without tickets fighting with police and stewards, trying to power their way past barriers to get into Wembley stadium. But everything was back in order when the opening whistle sounded.

Order that didn’t last very long, as Luke Shaw gave England the lead in the second minute and sent the fans into a frenzy. The tournament’s best player, according to the legendary former player Roberto Carlos, gave the Three Lions a dream start. It was a final characterized by passion and high energy. A second goal almost seemed inevitable, a fact proven by Leonardo Bonucci when he equalized in the 67th minute.

Heartbreak and Heroics in the Penalty Shoot-Out

Neither the remaining 23 minutes nor extra-time could resolve the stalemate. Round one of the shoot-out didn’t bring any casualties, with Domenico Berardi and Kane both converting their penalties. Next, Pickford made an excellent save from Andrea Belotti’s kick. And after Harry Maguire converted the subsequent penalty, England seemed destined to win. Bonucci scored earlier in the match and also proved clinical from 12 yards, keeping the Italian dream alive. Then Marcus Rashford endangered the English dream by hitting the outside of the post.

Bernardeschi’s ensuing penalty relocated the pressure to England and 21-year-old Jadon Sancho. This time it was Donnarruma’s turn to be a hero, just like in the semi-final. Jorginho was arguably the best penalty taker in the world, making Pickford’s save even more impressive. It ended up being in vain. Gareth Southgate had decided Bukayo Saka was to take England’s final penalty. No one can blame the 19-year-old for crumbling under the pressure. But above all, England’s shoot-out loss can be attributed to a stunning display by the tournament’s best player, Gianluigi Donnarruma. Italy were European champions for the first time since 1968.     

Racist Abuse after the Final

Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho were targeted by online racist abuse after missing their penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 final. It was widely condemned and the FA issued a statement saying: “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 the 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.”          

 

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