August 1, 2021

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Next Level Game Over

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Football is going to Rome.

Italy have won the European Championship after beating England in a heartbreaking penalty shootout at Wembley.

Bukayo Sako, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho all missed from the spot as England’s spot-kick curse reared its ugly head once again.

It took just one minute and 55 seconds of the European Championship final at Wembley for Luke Shaw to give his own answer to that question.

With one big swing of his left foot, it was an emphatic yes from Luke Shaw.

England had barely finished a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen inside a packed Wembley before the fans were back on their feet again, incredulous with what they had just seen.

Kieran Trippier, brought back into the line-up for the final at right-wing back at the expense of Bukayo Saka as Gareth Southgate shifted to a 5-3-2 formational, lofted a lovely cross over the heads of the usually inpenetrable Italian defence to find the Manchester United left-back, playing in a more advanced role himself.

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Shaw caught it immediately on the half volley as jaws hit the ground at what had just happened.

It’s not supposed to happen this quickly, there was supposed to be a lot more time of nerves not being settled, this wasn’t in the script.

Of course, the last time Trippier produced an early bit of magic in the biggest international game for more 50 years, it didn’t end well. And England knew that.

Italy came firing straight back and Federico Chiesa went inches away with a vicious low shot that flew just wide of Jordan Pickford’s left-hand post.

With Italy now beginning to dominate possession, England were grateful to hear the half-time whistle.

After the break England made their now customary quick start, remember this is where they scored against Ukraine as well, and they maybe should have had a penalty as Raheem Sterling was bundled over in the box.

The referee and VAR were in agreement that perhaps it was time for the footballing Gods to level it out after Sterling benefitted from a soft penalty call in the semi-final, as replays showed that perhaps he was unfortunate not to get the decision in his favour again.

Chiesa continued to be the danger man for Italy and so nearly got the equaliser just after the hour mark as he jinked his way into the box and fired another low shot towards England’s goal.

But Jordan Pickford, who hadn’t had to do much up to that point, produced a wonderful reaction save to keep England ahead.

But Italy weren’t to be denied for much longer as Leonardo Bonucci bundled the ball in just minutes later to silence a sold out Wembley crowd.

It came from another corner that England couldn’t quite clear as Pickford turned a header onto the post, leaving Bonucci to react quickest and draw the Azzurri level.

Bonucci became the oldest player to ever score in a European Championship final with his goal.

Giogio Chiellini could have seen red for a late grab of Saka around his neck as he ran through, but was only shown a yellow.

Chiesa suffered an injury and had to be removed, depriving Italy of their best player on the night as the game edged towards extra time, with England’s nerves becoming more and more apparent.

Surely it couldn’t go all the way to penalties. Not with England’s history. Not with Gareth Southgate’s history.

The first half of extra time came and went, with only the introduction of Jack Grealish off the bench for Mason Mount giving the England fans in attendance something to cheer. The country would probably explode if he scored the winner, given the national clamour for him all tournament.

An attacking blitz from England saw John Stones inches away from grabbing a winner as Harry Kane’s cross floated agonisingly above him with an empty net beckoning.

Jorginho was fortunate to escape a red card for a stamp on Grealish, getting just a yellow card instead in what would have been a huge blow for Italy’s penalty-taking quintet.

It did go to penalties and England’s shootout curse came back to haunt them.

Kane scored the first to ease the nerves but as England and Pickford made a brilliant save to make the unthinkable, thinkable.

But then disaster struck. The two men who were brought on in the 120th minute to take penalties, Rashford and Sancho, both missed with stuttered run ups, before Arsenal’s Saka missed the decisive kick and see 55 years of hurt continue.

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