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Football Reporting

Champions League

Italy beat Spain on penalties after 1-1 draw to reach Euro 2020 final

Football may be coming home this weekend – or it might be coming, Rome.

A semi-final of thunderous quality, where the majestic Busquets called the tune for Spain like a jukebox, was settled by penalties.

As a satisfactory conclusion to a classic, it was like deciding a by-election in a marginal seat with a tombola.

It fell to Chelsea midfielder Jorginho to pot the winning spot-kick, after former Blues Alvaro Morata had been denied by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

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On the night, Spain could feel hard done by. But an England-Italy final would be fabulous.

Ever since they got the party started by making a Friday night dinner out of Turkey last month, Italy had turned high summer into la dolce vita.

Italy celebrate Federico Chiesa's opener
Italy celebrate Federico Chiesa’s opener

The Azzurri brought style to Euro 2020 on and off the pitch, the swaggering bravura of their football matched only by the pebble-grey blazers.

Fashionistas agree: This was the look Liverpool’s ‘spice boys’ were trying to achieve when they pitched up on the catwalk at the 1996 FA Cup final in those cream suits.

But Mancini’s Ragazzi delle Spezie don’t just look the part – they can play, too.

From the moment they linked arms and swayed together from the first bars of Fratelli d’Italia, the national anthem that sounds like a call to arms than a morbid dirge, they were standard-bearers for passion.

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We all sniggered when Ciro Immobile discovered the fastest cure for all known injuries was to leap off the floor and join in his team-mates’ goal celebration.

Jorginho celebrates his winning penalty
Jorginho celebrates his winning penalty

Defensive titans Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini seem to have been around longer than ancient Rome’s Coliseum itself, but whenever Father Time tries to administer last rites, they shut him down expertly.

And the day may be nearing when Jorginho, a Champions League winner in Chelsea’s midfield, does not have to travel beyond Stamford Bridge to feel wholly appreciated.

In the sunlit uplands of Wembley, both sets of fans turned the occasion into a simmering cocktail of noise and colour which transcended the DJ’s playlist on Radio Naff.

They forgave the delivery of the match ball, a silver blob which looks like Harry Potter’s quidditch, by remote-controlled car.

They marvelled at the effrontery of £6.50 a pop for unexceptional beer.

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They scoffed at pockets of England supporters, interlopers at their own party, sizing up potential opponents in Sunday’s final and breaking into refrains of “It’s coming home.”

And none of them was surprised that Spain, back-to-back winners of this tournament in 2008 and 2012, can still play.

Clear chances may have been few and far between, but that only added to the delicious tension of two proud football nations who never give an inch where a millimetre is optional.

It was always going to take a goal of memorable quality to separate the prize fighters, and on the hour Federico Chiesa supplied it.

In the last 16, Chiesa came off the bench to make the difference against Austria, and on his return to Wembley the Juventus winger’s class told again.

On he hour, he procured a sumptuous, bending finish to beat the sprawling Unai Simon from 18 yards and, like a Da Vinci masterpiece, it deserved a wider audience.

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Morata had equalised for Spain
Morata had equalised for Spain

Italy, on the back foot for most of the night and happy to hit Spain on the break, probably thought it was going to be their night when Mikel Oyarzabal missed two yawning chances to equalise in the space of a minute.

But Alvaro Morata, surprisingly left out of the starting XI, came to the rescue 10 minutes from time.

The former Chelsea striker sprang from the bench to slide a cool equaliser beyond Gianluigi Donnarumma and detain 60,000 patrons in the London borough of Brent half the night.

Such was the intensity of a spellbinding contest that nobody was complaining.

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