In the end, it all came down to a kick. A kick from Jorginho, for everything. Previous failures by Dani Olmo and Álvaro Morata had placed Italy in a prime position to qualify for Sunday’s final against England or Denmark. With a calm that belied the enormity of the moment, Jorginho rolled the ball to the corner to conclude almost three hours of maximum tension and break the hearts of the Spanish.
It was a semi-final that would have been a worthy final, a match that throbbed and beat like a human heart. Spain probably played their best match of the tournament; Italy managed to keep them at bay without reaching the heights of their previous matches. Morata’s fresh late finish, which nullified Federico Chiesa’s goal within the hour, turned out to be just the beginning of the drama at a captivating, exhausted and garish Wembley.
The national stadium was a vivid and dramatic watercolor feast under the lights: drenched Spanish white and Italian blue drenched in a field softened and cut by a rainy day and night. It was a game of dazzling technical quality, a game played primarily on the pitch, a game that epitomized the best of international football. In the stands, at least, the Azzurri were decisively in the majority, barricading the long periods of Spanish possession, exploding on occasions when Italy threatened the high rear, howling when Emerson’s deflected shot kissed the crossbar in the middle of the shot. hour.
This team from Spain is a slightly more chaotic evolution of its more controlled and garlandized predecessors of a decade ago: packed with regulatory skill and intelligence, but with the slightest trace of calamity at its core, typified by the frequent sighting. of Unai Simón running. of his goal like a Sunday bell with designs in a central midfield plaza. Sometimes he touched the ball; sometimes, more alarming, it didn’t. One such occasion saw Emerson pass Ciro Immobile with the goal still unattended, only for Immobile to hesitate on the shot.
For all this, Spain was marginally the best team in the first half. The battle for midfield felt so important – you could see it in Marco Verratti’s tackles and the deep pressure of Nicolò Barella. But after a broken opening, Spain largely took control of the central zones through the wise and economical Sergio Busquets and the brilliant Barcelona teenager Pedri, who with his airy first touch and lightning switches of the game evokes Andrés Iniesta on four cans of Red Bull. It was these last two that combined for a good early opportunity that Mikel Oyarzabal squandered with a poor first touch.
Luis Enrique gave a surprise to the front. Earlier in the tournament he had defended the beleaguered Morata insisting that his team would be “Morata and 10 others.”
Now the Juventus striker took his place alongside 11 others on the bench, replaced by the young Real Sociedad captain Oyarzabal: perhaps after Luis Enrique had seen how well Italy dealt with a conventional target in Romelu Lukaku in the quarterfinals against Belgium. However, Oyarzabal missed at least three good chances in that first half, with Ferran Torres also dragging a shot wide from 20 yards.
Perhaps it was a calculated bet by Luis Enrique to raise the stakes again at half-time, ordering Spain to move the ball faster to their wing players in an attempt to stretch the play. This they duly did, and Busquets fired a shot just above the second half, but more importantly, it also gave Italy more room to work. From the beginning of the game, the speed of Italy’s counterattacks had opened fissures in the Spanish defense. The question was whether a fissure would be enough.
It was just a fissure that Lorenzo Insigne slipped a brilliant pass to Immobile on the hour. Aymeric Laporte slipped to tackle, but the ball broke for Chiesa, with only a crack from an opening to shoot. Chiesa’s shot, a curling effort with the right foot that is becoming Italy’s calling card at these championships, was absolutely perfect. At one point Wembley became a sea of delusional blue shirts. On the touchline, Luis Enrique applauded grandly. A few feet away, Mancini followed her advice, like a man who had seen how this was going to end, but did not tell anyone.
Perhaps he had glimpsed the turn. With 10 minutes remaining, Morata received the ball, turned and ran, passed it to the excellent Olmo and recovered it. Now, with a touch, he rolled the ball past Gianluigi Donnarumma, gathered behind the goal and accepted the grace of this moment: a man finally at peace, at least for a while.
Extra time something about rebellious circus. Spain kept pressing against a tired Italy, sweeping the second balls: Olmo’s shot deflected through a thicket of legs and bounced wide with Donnarumma now here. Domenico Berardi scored an offside goal. But as time slipped by, the inevitability of sanctions grew ever greater, until finally they could no longer escape.