Veteran defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci led the Italian ship to the European Cup title, at the expense of Englishman Harry Kane and his companions, with a penalty shootout in the dramatic final of Wembley Stadium.
The Juventus duo were the only survivors of the 2012 European Cup final, when Italy fell by a humiliating four against Spain.
But coach Roberto Mancini relied on them unrivaledly in his journey to the title, despite the humiliation of exit from the 2018 World Cup qualifiers and the absence of the prestigious global event for the first time in sixty years.
“The desire to rebuild was enormous,” said captain Chiellini. “We managed to turn disappointment into passion and desire to do better.”
He continued, “What we have achieved in the last three years is a dream. What the coach planted in our heads has become a reality.” And the solid defender added, “When the coach asked us to think about winning the title, we considered him crazy.”
In a young Italian squad that includes the likes of brilliant goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, striker Federico Chiesa and midfielder Nicolo Parilla, the Italians focused on Chiellini (36 years old) and Bonucci (34 years old).
The duo made a joint history with Juventus, which dominated the Italian league for nearly a decade, before Inter dropped it last season, with the exception of a brief period in which Bonucci moved to Milan.
“Chilini and Bonucci are two beasts, amazing,” says former world champion Andrea Barzagli in 2006, the third Juventus defender with the giant duo before retiring in 2019.
He continued, “They are the core of the national team. They play at the highest level, and when you need someone, he screams.”
Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho described them as a duo capable of “giving lessons in defense at Harvard”, after losing his former team, Manchester United, in the Champions League in Turin.
“Mourinho’s compliments make us happy,” Bonucci said last Friday. “It makes us think about the good work we’ve done in our career.”
Bonucci was not satisfied with his defensive roles, as he scored the equalizer for Italy in the final that took Squadra Azzura to the penalty shootout, and in the goal resulting from a corner, Chiellini participated in dispersing the English defense before the ball reached his defensive twin.
Bonucci said after the victory: “It’s great, when we give everything we find strength, I thank the coach, the president (the federation) and the fans, this cup is deserved.”
He continued, “The Cup is for a country that has suffered many difficulties. We are very happy. The Cup is back with us and it will not stay here.”
As for Chiellini, who lifted the Henri Dolony Cup, he suffered injuries that kept him out of two matches in the current finals, leaving space for Francesco Acerbi.
His ferocity was evident, when he grabbed Bukaya Saka’s shirt and lowered him to the ground similar to wrestling matches, when the Arsenal player tried to slip on the right side at a sensitive timing of the match.
Kelney had admitted on the eve of the final that he enjoys “every moment of the end of my career”.
The duo succeeded in stopping Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, and snatched qualification from Spain in the semi-finals, before depriving Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling from scoring in the final in front of 67,000 spectators, most of whom were English fans.
After the epics of Chiellini and Bonucci, it was time for their den, Gianluigi Donnarumma, to shine and save two penalty kicks, giving the “blue” team the opportunity to celebrate crazy.