Europe’s football champions returned home at dawn on Monday to the ecstatic cheers of the Italians, who spent most of the night honking their horns, setting off fireworks and violating all possible coronavirus precautions to avoid the 3-2 penalty shoot-out. Celebrating their team’s victory against England at Wembley.
Captain Giorgio Chiellini lifted his fist and coach Roberto Mancini lifted the trophy high above their heads as they disembarked from their Alitalia charter flight at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport. To the cheers of airport staff, defender Leonardo Spinazzola hopped down the steps on one foot and the other in a cast after injuring his Achilles tendon at the beginning of the tournament.
“Grazie Azzurri” read a banner on the asphalt – a mood that was felt across the country after Italy took home its first major trophy since the 2006 World Cup.
The national team was officially celebrated later Monday by President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Mario Draghi, along with tennis player Matteo Berrettini, who had given the Italians another reason to be proud by reaching the individual finals at Wimbledon on Sunday. Berrettini lost to Novak Djokovic but he joined Mattarella at Wembley to watch the Azzurri finish 1-1 after extra time on Sunday and then win on penalties.
For the Italians, the championship was a fresh start for their young national team and a country longing for a return to normal after the coronavirus pandemic.
A cacophony of honking cars, fireworks and singing fans filled the night in Rome as thousands of people took to the streets. When the sun rose on Monday, the noise was silent, but not the mood.
“It seems to me that this victory is so good for the national spirit after all the suffering for COVID,” said Daniela Righino, an Italian living in Uruguay who was back in Rome for the final. “Yesterday was an explosion of joy, ‘I’m happy.”
Many Italians saw the European Championship as a relaunch for a country that had spent much of the past 16 months in various stages of lockdown. Italy was the first country outside Asia to be hit by the pandemic and suffered immensely, especially in the spring of 2020 when hospitals in northern Italy were overcrowded with patients and the death toll skyrocketed.
Italy has recorded more than 127,000 COVID deaths, the highest in the EU of 27 nations.
“It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but especially for us, one of the first countries to be hit. This is a signal for a fresh start, ”said Michela Solfanelli, a 30-year-old event producer from Milan.
Most of the virus restrictions have been lifted since the spring and the remaining ones have been largely ignored by the crowd of Italy fans dancing and chanting in the streets of the capital: “We are champions of Europe”.
David Bellomo, a 23-year-old from the southern city of Bari, pointed out that this was Italy’s second big win this year after Italian band Maneskin won the Eurovision Song Contest in May.
“Thanks to Eurovision and thanks to this game and football, we managed to come back this year,” he said. “We almost got a triple,” he added, referring to Berrettini.
Shoulder to shoulder, the fans nervously watched the penalty shoot-out on two large screens in the Piazza del Popolo, an elliptical cobblestone square on the edge of the historic center of Rome. When Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved England’s last penalty, a deafening roar rose to the sky.
Under the sea of blue shirts was an immigrant family from Senegal who had come from the city of Zagarolo, an hour from Rome, to watch the final with the audience in the piazza.
“I’m not Italian, but I can feel the emotions. I feel like I’m Italian, “said Falilou Ndao, 42.” We really love this country. “
His 13-year-old son Yankho, an Italy fan and young soccer player, was impressed with the team.
“You have shown courage. They never gave up, even if they only scored one goal, ”he said. “That is so deserved. They played great throughout the tournament. Go to Italy! “
Although people still have to wear masks in crowded situations, police made no attempt to intervene as crowds of fans flocked to the piazza, singing the national anthem and lighting torches. Fireworks cracked overhead as supporters drove through town, waving Italian flags from their cars.
Dr. Annamaria Altomare, a 39-year-old gastroenterologist, watched the spectacle with a friend from a safe distance. They were among the few who wore masks.
“We want to avoid the Delta variant in this mess,” she said with a laugh.