Italy erupts as European soccer champions return to Rome

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Captain Giorgio Chiellini, his fist pumping the air, and coach Roberto Mancini hoisted the trophy above their heads as they stepped off their Alitalia charter flight at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport. Amid cheers from airport workers, defender Leonardo Spinazzola descended the steps with one foot, the other in a cast after injuring his Achilles tendon earlier in the tournament.

“Grazie Azzurri” reads a banner on the tarmac – a sentiment felt across the country after Italy won its first major trophy since the 2006 World Cup.

The national team were officially celebrated by President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi later on Monday, joined by tennis player Matteo Berrettini, who gave the Italians yet another reason for pride on Sunday by reaching the singles final in Wimbledon. Berrettini lost to Novak Djokovic but joined Mattarella at Wembley to see the Azzurri finish 1-1 after extra time and then win on penalties.

There was enough joy to go around to even reach the hospital suite on the 10th floor of Pope Francis, who, even before the Italian victory, could savor the triumph of his native Argentina’s team, which won the Copa America. earlier in the weekend.

“Sharing the joy of the victory of the Argentinian national and the Italian national teams with his relatives, His Holiness dwelled on the meaning of sport and its values,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement. update on Pope recovering in Rome after colon surgery on July 4th.

Bruni said Francis spoke of “this sporting ability to know how to accept any result, even defeat”. Quoting Francis, the spokesperson added that he said that in the face of life’s hardships “you can always put yourself in the game, fight without surrendering, with hope and confidence”.

For the Italians, the championship was a new start for their young national team and a country that aspires to return to normal after being hard and long hit by the pandemic.

A cacophony of horns, fireworks and singing fans filled the night in Rome as thousands took to the streets. As the sun rose on Monday, the noise had died down but not the feeling.

“It seems to me that this victory is so good for the national spirit after all this suffering for COVID,” said Daniela Righino, an Italian living in Uruguay who was back in Rome for the final. “Yesterday was a blast of joy. I’m happy.

Many Italians saw the European Championship as a relaunch for a country that has spent much of the past 16 months in various lockdown stages. Italy was the first country outside of Asia to be hit by the pandemic and suffered tremendously, especially in the spring of 2020 when hospitals in northern Italy were inundated with patients and the death toll soared sharply.

Italy has recorded more than 127,000 deaths from COVID, the highest in the European Union of 27 countries.

“It has been a complicated year for everyone, but especially for us, who were one of the first countries affected. This is the signal for a new beginning, ”said Michela Solfanelli, 30-year-old event producer based in Milan.

Most of the virus restrictions have been lifted since spring and the remaining ones have been largely ignored by the mass of fans who have danced the streets of the capital chanting “we are European champions”.

David Bellomo, 23, from the southern city of Bari, said it was Italy’s second big win this year, after Italian group Maneskin won the Eurovision Song Contest. song in May.

“Thanks to Eurovision and thanks to this game and this football, we managed to come back this year,” he said. “We almost got a triple,” he added, referring to Berrettini.

Side by side, fans nervously watched the shots on goal on two large screens set up in Piazza del Popolo, an elliptical cobbled square on the edge of Rome’s historic center. A deafening roar rose in the sky as Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved England’s final penalty.

Among the sea of ​​blue shirts was an immigrant family from Senegal, who came from the city of Zagarolo, an hour from Rome, to experience the final with the crowd in the square.

“I’m not Italian, but I can feel the emotions. I can feel it like I’m Italian, “said Falilou Ndao, 42.” We really love this country. “

His 13-year-old son Yankho, an Italian fan and young footballer, was impressed with the team.

“They showed courage. They never gave up, even when they lost a goal, ”he said. “It’s so deserved. They played very well the whole tournament. Go Italy!

Although people are still required to wear masks in crowded situations, police made no attempt to intervene as crowds of supporters marched out of the square, singing the national anthem and lighting flares. Fireworks erupted overhead as fans drove through town waving Italian flags from their cars.

Dr Annamaria Altomare, a 39-year-old gastroenterologist, watched the show with a friend from a safe distance. They were among the few to wear masks.

“We want to avoid the delta variant in this mess,” she said with a laugh.

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