By STEVE DOUGLAS – Japan Today
Facing a wall of nervous blue-and-white clad Italy fans behind the goal, Jorginho took his trademark hop and skip before calmly stroking in the winning penalty.
So much for the pressure of a shootout in a European Championship semifinal match.
The Italians beat Spain 4-2 on penalties at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday to advance to the final, where they will play either England or Denmark back at the same stadium on Sunday.
The match finished 1-1 after extra time. Federico Chiesa scored for Italy with a curling shot in the 60th minute but substitute Alvaro Morata equalized for Spain in the 80th.
Morata, dropped for the first time in the tournament, missed the next-to-last kick in the shootout, giving Jorginho the chance to win it.
The Chelsea midfielder has his own style when it comes to taking penalties and he didn’t abandon it when it mattered most, sparking a throng of celebrations as Italy’s players ran toward Jorginho.
Italy’s players then lined up on the edge of the area and ran together toward the fans. Leonardo Bonucci went further, leaping over the advertising hoardings to get even closer to the crazed supporters.
Riding a national record unbeaten run of 33 games, Italy will play in its fourth European final and will look to win the title for a second time, after 1968.
It’s quite the redemption story after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Italy’s players have had the aura of champions since Day 1 of the European Championship and they’ll be sticking around until the last day, too. But it’s at the home of English soccer where the team has had its toughest matches.
Against Austria in the round of 16, the Italians were taken to extra time and they had to go the distance against Spain, too.
Spain’s striker-free formation initially flummoxed the Azzurri to quieten its loud, colourful, flag-waving fans behind one of the goals.
Experienced center backs Giorgio Chiellini and Bonucci looked uncertain at times, not knowing whether to drop back or follow deep-lying forward Dani Olmo — who started ahead of Morata — into the center of midfield.
They had even more problems when Morata came on as a substitute after Chiesa had put Italy ahead by latching onto a loose ball, cutting inside and curling a shot into the far corner.
He also scored against Austria.
Morata looked dangerous in stretching Italy’s defense to set up chances. Then he scored.
For a player often accused of wasting chances when he has too much time in front of goal, Morata showed calmness to stroke in a left-footed shot after exchanging passes with Olmo at the end of the area in the 80th.
Morata grabbed a camera behind the goal and thrust his face into it.
But he had nowhere to hide after becoming the second Spain player to miss in the shootout, after Olmo.
Italy had started the shootout with Manuel Locatelli’s shot saved by Unai Simon, but Andrea Bellotti, Bonucci and Federico Bernadeschi all scored before Jorginho.
Spain, a three-time European champion, lost for the first time in the semifinals of a European Championship.