Italy’s victory soothes the soul of a nation crushed by Covid

Italians poured into streets and squares to celebrate the Euro 2020 win against England that for many fans has come to symbolise the end of the country’s “worst period”.

Giorgio Casa was among the thousands of Italian supporters who gathered in central Rome to celebrate the national team’s victory over England in a nail-biting penalty shoot out at London’s Wembley Stadium. Some fans adapted the English anthem — “Football’s Coming Home” — to reflect the Italian win, singing that football had “come Rome”.

This achievement is seen by many as particularly poignant, given Italy’s battle with the pandemic. Last year it became one of the first countries in Europe to institute a lockdown and more than 120,000 Italians have died of coronavirus since.

“For the first time since March 2020, last night we forgot about the pandemic and the economic crisis,” said Casa, 33. “This victory is giving us hope again, I wasn’t sure I could remember what that meant any more.”

As soon as England’s Bukayo Saka’s penalty was saved by goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to deliver victory on Sunday night, the national team’s failure to qualify from the 2018 World Cup became a distant memory. The success of coach Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri team quickly gained symbolic significance.

“It is the sign of rebirth that we were waiting for after the worst period in our lives, like the 1982 World Cup after the years of terrorism,” wrote Aldo Cazzullo on the front page of Italian daily Corriere della Sera. “It is hard to say who needed it more, the national team or us [the people].”

Covid-19 has ravaged the country’s economy and society since January 2020, with thousands of people dying, others losing their jobs and struggling to make ends meet.

Giorgio Chiellini holds the European Championship trophy aloft as the Italy team are received by president Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinal Palace in Rome on Monday © Remo Casilli/Reuters

The prime minister’s office’s was among the first to react to the news on Twitter. “Champions of Europe!” it said. “Thank you Azzurri! You have written an extraordinary page of history, not only in sports.”

In an article for Corriere della Sera, the most read newspaper in the northern region of Lombardy, backbone of the Italian economy and the epicentre of the first European Covid outbreak, journalist Fabrizio Roncone welcomed the nation’s happy tears.

“It is a new time for us,” he wrote, “with the wonderful ability to win and to be happy: tears of joy, at last, and unbridled celebration.”

Marino Niola, an anthropologist and writer, told Italian broadcaster Rai News 24 that the result held special meaning after the past 18 months.

“It’s not just a football match, it’s much more than that, it’s a desire for redemption,” said Niola. “It’s a wider social phenomenon that affects everything and everyone.”

On the streets of Rome, jubilant fans hoped to catch sight of the national team as they took part in a victory parade.

The joyous scenes captured the attention of Irish tourist Michelle Rock who took photos of Italian flags outside a gelateria. “Well done, Italy,” she said. “You’re taking over Europe!”

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