LONDON – Two football-mad nations clashed and one blinked. Italy beat England in the final of the Euro 2020 soccer tournament on Sunday in London.
The winner was determined by a penalty shoot-out after extra time that kept the score at 1 apiece.
Italy won 3-2 after England’s last shot was blocked.
Italian player Jorge Luiz Frello Filho, known as Jorginho, missed the previous shot, blocked by England goalkeeper Jordan Lee Pickford, sending the London crowd into frenzied cheers, but a first European Championship for the host country should not be. Italy were already leading 3-2 and the score remained.
As Covid-19 infection rates continue to rise across the UK, more than 60,000 fans, mostly English, have been allowed to watch the match at Wembley Stadium in London.
The match started quickly when Englishman Luke Shaw scored just 2 minutes after kick-off, the first goal of a European Championship final. But Italy came out of the half aggressively and leveled things off when Leonardo Bonucci placed the ball into England’s net after a scramble on the goal line.
Players from both teams knelt before the starting whistle to call attention to racial injustice, which England players did before every game in the tournament. Minutes earlier, dozens of ticketless fans burst into the stadium, with stewards and police trying to hold back the rowdy crowd as they made their way through the barriers.
Prince William, his wife Kate and their son Prince George attended the match, the first football final played by the England men’s team since 1966.
The tournament – originally scheduled for summer 2020 – has captivated the UK and Italy, both hard hit by Covid-19.
The four countries of the UK, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe, followed by Italy, according to Johns Hopkins University. Although more than half of the British population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, the highly transmissible delta variant has led to an increase in cases in recent weeks.
Italy celebrated double sporting success as Matteo Berrettini became the first Italian tennis player – male or female – to make the Wimbledon singles final, which he lost to Serbian Novak Djokovic.
Across the UK millions of people watched the match, which aired on both the BBC and its commercial rival ITV, which drew over 26 million viewers for the semi-final against Denmark on Wednesday. . About the same number of people in the UK watched Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, get married in 2011.
Thousands of schoolchildren were allowed in late Monday so they could enjoy the game with their parents. There were also calls for a public holiday if England won.
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Goodwill towards the England squad has been largely unanimous, a change from the start of the tournament, when some fans booed a decision by the England players to kneel down.
“More than half of the English team have at least one parent or grandparent born outside the UK,” according to the Migration Museum in central London.
The row over the team’s decision was fueled in part by the backlash from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who did not explicitly condemn the boos. Ahead of the tournament kicking off last month, his spokesperson said when it came to getting down to one knee, he believed “in taking action rather than just gesturing.”
Johnson, who has since been pictured in an English jersey, wished the team the best of luck. Several other members of his Conservative Party have expressed support, having previously criticized the team for taking the knee.
England captain Harry Kane has also been praised for wearing a rainbow armband in solidarity with the German squad, who championed LGBTQ rights when they faced Hungary earlier in the tournament. Hungary had been the subject of international criticism for a law banning the promotion of homosexuality or transgender issues in schools, apparently equating them with pedophilia.
When the England men’s team last won a major international football tournament, the World Cup, over half a century ago in 1966, they beat what was then Germany by West at Wembley Stadium.
Queen Elizabeth II, who presented the trophy, recalled the moment on Saturday in a message to England manager Gareth Southgate.
In a message to the team, she said she hoped “that history will record not only your success but also the spirit, commitment and pride with which you have conducted yourself.”