For much of Tuesday night’s Euro 2020 semifinal against Spain, Italy were second best. Spain, much to their credit, put forward one of their best performances in the Euros and prevented Italy from playing the kind of game that they have done for so much of this tournament. It was a game, even after Italy blew a 1-0 lead when they let Alvaro Morata run right through the heart of their defense, where the Azzurri couldn’t do what they wanted to do.
Yet, after 4 1⁄2 rounds of penalty kicks, and there’s one team celebrating.
And it’s the one that was second-best on the night, but the one that was better in the penalty shootout.
As Morata misfired on another penalty, his Juventus teammates Leonardo Bonucci and Federico Bernardeschi (!!!!) delivered two of the best PKs that you will see in this tournament. With a hop and a cool-as-hell finish from Jorginho, Italy secured its spot in the Euro 2020 final, one where they will either play the team that would be playing in their own backyard (England) or against the feel-good story of the entire tournament (Denmark). At this point, though, it doesn’t matter because Italy is in the final and, despite being far from their best, they got there.
To quote a certain guy who wore No. 10 at Juventus for a long, long time and is now doing some TV work at ESPN during the Euros, “We need to rest.”
We’re all tired, Ale. We didn’t play, but we’re tired.
That was just what kind of game it was. This wasn’t Italy running wild on the opponent. Hell, this wasn’t Italy doing anything close to what they have done for much of the tournament. Spain dominated possession and dominated in terms of scoring chances created, which meant Italy had to do a little bit of an old school type of job. They didn’t just try and hit Spain on the counter, but they turned it into a grind-it-out kind of game even after that absolutely beautiful Federico Chiesa goal to give Italy a 1-0 lead.
Then Morata scored and a game in which Italy was trying like to protect its slim was quickly turned on its head again.
So much for sitting back and shutting up shop, which might not have been the right move knowing how Spain has shown they can score in a hurry at times in this tournament.
But you could tell that Italy was exhausted come the start of extra time. There wasn’t that same burst forward that they’ve had in previous games. It was more about hanging on and getting to penalties more than anything else even though they had a couple of moments pushing forward looking for a goal.
Then came the PKs. Oh, those crazy PKs — something that have been quite the adventure over the last couple of weeks. You see the first one saved and then the second one skied high, you’re expecting more of the same then. Yet, that didn’t happen ... at least not for Italy.
Bonucci — goal. Bernardeschi — goal. Jorginho — goal. Here we come, Euro 2020 final.
And now, like Del Piero said, we rest. Thank goodness because we all need it after what we just watched over the last couple of hours.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
- The highs and lows of Morata’s appearance in this game. He’s gonna be fried because that’s what happens whenever he makes a mistake, but the Spanish press is going to forget who’s responsible for getting Spain to extra time in the first place. Yeah, it was Morata.
- Gotta a little dusty in here when they cut to the Italian players celebrating and they were wearing Leonardo Spinazzola’s jersey and chanting his name. Just a little dusty. Little bit.
- Giorgio Chiellini messing with Jordi Alba before penalty kicks has to be one of the best things of this tournament, right? I mean, Alaba didn’t want any part of it, yet here’s Uncle Giorgio rolling up with that big old grin and cracking jokes because that’s just what kind of goofy, fun-loving guy he is. Well, outside of when he’s trying to take the ball away from you or win an duel in the air.
- The announcer on ESPN described Roberto Mancini as “a footballing alchemist” right before kickoff. That’s one way to say he’s done a pretty good job as Italy’s manager.
- I can only imagine how exhausted Federico Chiesa felt when he was helped back this feet after cramping up right as the first period of extra time ended. Dude is all-out all the time, and working as hard as he does just makes you tired watching him run up and down the field.
- Seriously, my man had about as slow of a walk off the field as you can when he was subbed off for Federico Bernardeschi at the beginning of the second extra time period. Chiesa, as usual, gave it all he’s got.
- I know we can harp on the weaknesses that Gigio Donnarumma has, but how would your blood pressure be if you were consistently riding the Unai Simón roller coaster every time your country plays? Goodness gracious, he was all over the place in this game — coming far of his line when he didn’t need to, turning the ball 1and putting his defense under duress, you name it. (Also says something about how far David De Gea has fallen off, too, if that’s Spain’s starting goalkeeper.)
- With how he played for much of the night, I really have no idea why Mancini waited until the 85th minute to take Nicolo Barella off the field. Definitely not the same kind of performance we’ve seen from earlier on in this tournament when he was one of Italy’s best players.
- Dani Olmo. Pedri. Welcome to the next generation of damn good Spanish midfielders.
- Gonna be thinking a lot about that Chiesa goal the rest of the day.
- Gonna be thinking a lot about that Bernardeschi penalty kick the rest of the day, too.
- Seriously, Federico Bernardeschi, one of the most-maligned Juventus players over the last two or three years, just made one of the most important penalties in Euro 2020. This damn game, man. I got nothin’.
- It might be coming home ... and then going to Rome. You never know!
- But, Italy’s still alive, so it might just be coming home to Rome. And after the last 18 months that Italy has had during the pandemic, the party they will have in the Italian capital if Italy wins the whole damn thing is going to be a wild, wild time.
- First, though. We rest. Because Alessandro Del Piero wants us to do so. And what Dad says goes. We shall listen to you, Alex. Always and forever.