In a game which saw defenders take goal-scoring into their own hands, with Luke Shaw and Leonardo Bonucci on the scoresheet, the Italian gave a complete defensive and attacking performance, writes Amarachi Orie.
Leonardo Bonucci scored a crucial equaliser in Italy’s match against England, buying his team more time to end their 2020 Euros campaign with a win. He remained steadfast in his defensive duties after an early goal from England shook his team.
The centre-back then took centre stage by taking charge up front and restoring the game’s balance with a goal. In the most important match of the tournament – the final – he gave his team another lease of life and helped to secure a long-awaited European trophy.
Bonucci was initially helpless as Luke Shaw scored the fastest-ever goal in a European Championship final. Kieran Trippier lobbed the ball over the defenders and targeted it to land right at the foot of Shaw, who turned from defender to striker to give England the lead in the 2nd minute.
The balance had tipped in England’s favour before the Italians had even had a chance to get a grip on the game. While Gareth Southgate’s team dominated for most of the first half, Bonucci was not going to let them have full control. England had slipped through his grasp once but now he knew the warning signs.
In the 34th minute, he intercepted Raheem Sterling’s and Mason Mount’s charge towards goal, kicking the ball out of the penalty box to remove the threat. England were not going to get another goal under his watch; it was Italy’s turn to step up.
Roberto’s Mancini’s side began to make a stronger effort to go forward as the first half reached its close. Impatiently, Bonucci even tried to take a shot from outside the penalty box on the stroke of half time but was hugely off target. This was the warm-up to the important impact he was going to make in the next half.
Bonucci continued denouncing any efforts made by England to add to their lead in the second half. In the 64th minute, he boldly headed away a corner kick as a statement to his opponents that the game would no longer be going their way.
Three minutes later, he made his most vital contribution. The ball bounced around the box after a corner kick and the Juventus centre-back found his way to it and flicked it across the line. He scored the equaliser that would restore the level playing field between the two sides.
Italy had it all to gain, with victory a lot closer than it was before. Bonucci continued to put long balls into the box and to close down the likes of Sterling to see Italy into extra time and through to penalties.
Italy failed to convert two of their penalties. However, Bonucci did not miss his own. The pressure was on him, and he absorbed it all. The keeper went the right way, but the centre-back hit it high enough to avoid stoppage. After three missed penalties among the England players, Italy were declared the champions of the Euros.
The game ended and Bonucci took in all the glory. He came up to the camera and declared: “It’s coming to Rome.” England had reached the final for the first time in 55 years, and he played a major role in preventing them from going any further.
Bonucci is now the oldest player to have scored in a European Championship final. The 34-year-old has built up his confidence and experience over the years and, having played in three European Championships, he now has the pleasure of lifting the trophy.
Follow Amarachi Orie on Twitter @iamarachii