August 1, 2021

The whole world got a place at Wembley

LONDON. Please, sweet freshwater pirates – what a wonderful stormy naval battle for a football match.

60,000 spectators, but it feels like a fivefold increase.

It feels like the whole world was squeezed together at Wembley tonight, and that the whole world actually got a place too.

Jorginho makes his little jump, pokes the ball into the right corner and has time to stop and accelerate at the same time.

The minutes afterwards mostly consist only of chaos, chaos and honest old villervalla.

Someone is down by the corner flag and cheering, someone is a good distance up in the stands, someone is sitting on the center line and thanking the clouds.

Leonardo Spinazzola’s jersey is here, it’s a TV puck pile and a crowd of cheers and it’s impossible not to feel the deepest admiration for these triumphant Italian gladiators.

And it is impossible not to feel pure and sincere happiness to experience something like this again.

Photo: Justin Tallis / TT NEWS AGENCY

Personally, I am not an epidemiologist enough to determine whether Boris Johnson has coverage to let in 60,000 spectators at Wembley and to push with his “Freedom Day” despite the spread of the infection.

No clue. I’m not the right person to judge that.

On the other hand, I can try to describe to you how it feels to be in one of football’s big cathedrals at the same time as the people fill up and the sound grows and the semifinals are waiting and the stands are so high that the sky is barely visible.

Football felt great again.

An inevitable consequence of football in front of empty or sparse stands is otherwise that it feels less important, less epic – simply just less.

Not tonight. Here at Wembley, it felt huge, colossal, just as all-encompassing as it used to be. It was like rediscovering something I had missed so much that I apparently forgot how it really felt.

Stormatch. Great match in every sense of the word.

The teams rushed out of the blocks, pushed each other to the stretch limit before the Spaniards got hold of the ball and started playing around it.

There had been a lot of reasoning in advance about how this Italian team would be the most Spanish – or at least the most Guardian – they had ever had. With Jorginho, Veratti and Barella as a midfield triangle, you can control the ball in just about any match.

Not this one. Not against this resistance.

Sergio Busquets (64 years), Pedri (12 years) and Koke (unclear) form a hub with all the qualities and components of the midfield game. They can undeniably fit a football, but they can also win it back, transport it, hide it away.

Nä. You still can not defeat this Spain with their methods. You have to find your own.

After absorbing pressure and resisting ball-rolling for an hour, it did not take even fifteen seconds for Italy to take the lead. Donnarumma quickly out with the ball, Veratti straight ahead in deep, Insigne on – and then over to the natural power Federico Chiesa.

Once he got the ball, Roberto Mancini had tried to replace him for at least five minutes, and I had a hard time understanding it.

Personally, I always think he should be on the field.

There is something about his unwavering conviction and forward-thinking spirit that turns hopeless situations into goals, narrow crossovers into victories.

And of course, Dad was good and such – an even more naturally gifted goal scorer – but he was never like this … decisive.

1-0 to Italy with half an hour left. Everyone knows how it will end if it is 1-0 to Italy with half an hour left – and Spain did their part to fulfill their part of the role play.

Mikel Oyarzabal did not hit the ball when he tried to nod, Dani Olmo milled away his 22nd shot for the tournament without scoring a goal. And then Morata.

Often it seems Alvaro Morata be in some kind of mental inferiority to his whole world, and never does the inferiority seem to be as great as when he is set against his big brothers from Juventus.

When they played national team football against each other before Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci been so superior that it bordered on bullying.

At some point, Morata has described the experience of meeting Chiellini by going into a cage and trying to steal the gorilla’s food. When he now got his first position after the jump-in, he did not even dare to shoot.

The story was written, the end was near and Alvaro Morata was obvious in the role of the pathetic, fragile loser. The ink was drying in the storybook, when Morata himself grabbed the ball and challenged both his demons and his tormenting spirits.

First towards Bonucci and Chiellini, then in between them – and finally the ball in the net at the nearest post with a left wide side.

Spain was caught up, and for a few minutes Alvaro Morata was finally redeemed and liberated.

But fate and football would capture him once again.

What do they usually say? You may be able to win against the Italians, but you can still never defeat them.

Morata, Dani Olmo and the magnificent Pedri rushed further into overtime. Italy resisted.

Chiellini and Bonucci made their 325th match together – they have not lost much more than a tenth – and now used every trick in the defense book they themselves wrote so many chapters in to resist.

A fucking classic

The extension became captivating, immersive and speechless.

And then we stood there again.

Penalties. Eminen and his “Lose Yourself” from the speakers at Wembley.

If you had one shot, one opportunity to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment – would you capture it or just let it slip?

Giorgio Chiellini tanned and joked. Alvaro Morata did not laugh.

We all thought the same thought – and he probably thought it himself too. Imagine if his punishment would be the decisive one. Imagine if he would miss.

It felt almost predetermined, it actually seemed inevitable.

Still, I sincerely hope that this evening will not be remembered for a miss, for a scapegoat, for a defeat.

This was a classic, a full-fledged fucking classic.

On a few occasions during the match, the English part of the Wembley crowd tried to start their “Football’s coming home”, but were quickly whistled down by the two curves.

This was not their night, not the time for their song.

And that was both right and wrong. That with the fate and hardships of the English national team, we will take tomorrow – because now we are busy screaming, amazed, feeling.

And yes, in a way, football really came home tonight. That’s how it used to be.

This is how it used to be when it was at its very, very best.

Photo: Claudio Villa / Getty Images Europe

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