Rome (AFP) – Italy’s team returned home to Rome in triumph on Monday after beating England in a tense penalty shootout to win Euro 2020 at Wembley, plunging the host nation into despair and prolonging their 55-year wait for a second major title.

Giorgio Chiellini, the 36-year-old Italy captain, and coach Roberto Mancini lifted the gleaming trophy aloft after the team’s plane touched down just hours after the victory at Wembley on Sunday.

Mancini’s men recovered from the shock of conceding the quickest goal ever in a European Championship final to equalise and held their nerve to claim a 3-2 shootout victory after a 1-1 draw following extra-time.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved spot-kicks from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho but Marcus Rashford hit the post and Gianluigi Donnarumma kept out Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, sparking scenes of delirium from the players and the small pocket of Italian fans.

The three England players who missed were subjected to a stream of racial abuse online from their own and other supporters. 

“This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter on Monday. 

“Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”

It is the second time Italy have been crowned European champions and marks a remarkable turnaround under Mancini after the team failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

– Joy in Italy –

For England, the failure from the penalty spot extended their dismal record in shoot-outs and left the hosts still desperately waiting for another major trophy after the 1966 World Cup they won on home soil.

An overjoyed Mancini said: “The lads were wonderful, I don’t know what more to say. It’s important for all the people and all the fans.

“We did well. We conceded a goal straight away and struggled, but then we dominated the game,” he told RAI Sport.

Italians spilled on to the streets from Milan to Palermo to celebrate their side’s triumph, pushing aside thoughts of the coronavirus pandemic which has gripped the nation.

A partisan crowd of more than 67,000 mostly England fans at Wembley was whipped into a state of fever pitch by rousing renditions of “Three Lions” and “Sweet Caroline” before kick-off.

Gareth Southgate’s team raced out of the blocks and were ahead in just the second minute when defender Luke Shaw finished coolly at the back post after an inviting cross from Kieran Trippier.

Italy grew stronger as the match went on and equalised with 23 minutes remaining when Leonardo Bonucci scrambled the ball into the net from close range.

With four minutes remaining of normal time a pitch invader stopped the action and stewards struggled to catch him, adding to a sense of chaos at the stadium after ticket-less fans earlier forced their way in.

Normal time finished goalless despite a flurry of substitutions and the sides were still locked at 1-1 after extra time before the shootout drama.

England manager Gareth Southgate gambled by sending on late substitutes Rashford and Sancho specifically for their prowess in taking penalties, but the move backfired as both missed.

“That is my responsibility. I chose the guys to take the kicks. I told the players that nobody is on their own in that situation,” Southgate said.

The manager, who himself missed a penalty in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany, urged his young team to use the pain to fuel success in the future, accepting the blame for the heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat.

“I said we could have no recriminations,” he said. 

“We win and lose together. They’ve got to walk away from here with their heads held high. 

“They’ve done more than any other team in the last 50 or so years. In terms of the players, they should be incredibly proud of what they’ve done.”

– Fan frenzy –

The atmosphere around Wembley was frenzied in the build-up to the match and footage posted on social media showed hundreds of supporters battling to get past lines of stewards and police, with some able to force their way through security cordons and others scaling walls.

Another video appeared to show violent clashes between fans inside Wembley itself.

London’s Metropolitan Police said it made 49 arrests, and that 19 officers were injured while managing the final.

“Frustratingly, 19 of our officers were injured while they confronted volatile crowds. This is wholly unacceptable,” the police tweeted.