Finally, as the celebration got started, the two ancient stagers were there, holding the most expensive commodity in their hands.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci arrived with the Henri Delaunay trophy amid a shower of silver tickertape and bright pyrotechnics.
It wouldn’t be released from their grip until they were ready, which was a metaphor for the past 120 minutes.
During a night of tremendous suspense, these two veteran stagers had put Harry Kane under lock and key to bring their tournament to a close.
It wasn’t that England’s captain didn’t play well; it was simply that these gladiators didn’t allow him to see the goal.
Giorgio Chiellini (left) and Leonardo Bonucci (right) were instrumental in Italy’s Euro 2020 success, as they worked together to keep England’s Harry Kane under lock and key. The same could be said for Raheem Sterling.
Chiellini and Bonucci pounced on England’s player of the tournament whenever he danced into the penalty area, like enormous lions springing out of the tall grass to attack gazelles.
The leaders and tone-setters of this team, for whom the title of ‘European Champions’ comes easy, were unstoppable.
They were outstanding in their first game against Turkey on June 11 and have been so ever since.
Make no mistake: had England faced opponents with a defense marginally weaker than Italy’s, they would have won this tense match; had England raced into a second-minute lead against anyone other than opponents without Italy’s mental fortitude, they would have kept the trophy.
Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne never pushed Kyle Walker, John Stones, and Harry Maguire out of their comfort zones; in midfield, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips outperformed Jorginho and Marco Verratti.
There was a ‘but’ for England to break hearts.
Chiellini and Bonucci, the long-time foundations of Juventus’ domination, played like men possessed, their combat preparation summed up by the way they danced and yelled out their national song.
‘It was a difficult game to begin in the worst conceivable way, with England scoring just two minutes,’ Chiellini remarked.
‘With all the people in the stadium giving them energy to win, it was difficult for us.’
We were, however, quiet and peaceful, which was crucial.
So we start playing, playing, playing.
‘We find the right pass, the right shot: this is how we win,’ says the player.
It’s all in the past.
It’s unbelievable; it’s a dream come true.
We sensed some magic at first, and it has gotten stronger with each passing day.
We’ve seen the image of Cannavaro and now we’re all lucky.’ They were present for all the major moments, such as Bonucci scoring Italy’s second-half equalizer.
Fabio Cannavaro was Italy’s captain when they last conquered the globe in 2006, and he won the Ballon d’Or for the tremendous deeds he conjured up in Germany: ne passerano – they shall not pass – are words that run through the minds of Italian defenders.
Bonucci and Chiellini found a level of play that would have had the greats of the past – Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Giuseppe Bergomi, and Claudio Gentile, to mention a few – nodding their heads in approval.
It was the reason why, when England ruled, they never bowed down.
They were there at all of the major events.
Bonucci sprang up to slam in from six yards when they needed an equaliser.
The image of him screaming with joy on the advertising hoardings will undoubtedly become the wallpaper of thousands of mobile phone displays.
Bonucci flicked his spot-kick past Jordan Pickford with such dexterity that you could have mistaken him for a playmaker just moments before the penalty shootout appeared to be slipping away from them.
There’s a reason Italy hasn’t lost in 35 games.
Roberto Mancini possesses constructed a team that, while lacking in ‘galacticos,’ is high on energy, has world-class quality, and an unbreakable resolve.
Many other countries would have folded in the penalty shootout as the cacophony of whistles grew louder and louder.
They kept their cool instead, and in Gianluigi Donnarumma, they had someone to carry on the Gianluigi Buffon and Dino Zoff traditions.
‘I was lucky because I played with Gianluigi Buffon,’ Chiellini said of Italy’s European winners, who have high energy, world-class quality, and unbreakable will.
‘Now I play alongside Gigi Donnarumma, and it’s the same.’ Donnarumma stood between the posts like a yellow brick wall, his huge form appearing enormous from one end of the stadium – it must have seen enormous from 12 yards.
His quick and nimble stops from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were fantastic.
The latest one left a deep wound on England that will take a long time to repair.
The hangover will be lengthy and severe because there was so much will in the stadium, so much desperation.
For everything they’ve done, it didn’t deserve to end like this.
Every loser, on the other hand, has a winner, and Italy is deserving.
Mancini, his colorful helper Gianluca Vialli, and Attilio Lombardo all exuded pure and unabashed joy.
They took sure to honor Chiellini and Bonucci when the trophy was passed around.
It was only natural.