The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

Italy erupts as Europe's champions come home to Rome

Associated Press Monday, 12 July 2021, 15:42 Last update: about 21 days ago

Europe's soccer champions returned home at dawn on Monday to the ecstatic cheers of Italians who spent the better part of the night honking horns, setting off fireworks and violating all sorts of coronavirus precautions to celebrate their team’s 3-2 penalty shootout win over host England at Wembley Stadium.

Captain Giorgio Chiellini, his fist pumping the air, and coach Roberto Mancini hoisted the trophy high over their heads as they descended from their Alitalia charter flight at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci airport. Amid cheers from airport workers, defender Leonardo Spinazzola hopped down the steps on one foot, his other one in a cast after he injured his Achilles tendon earlier in the tournament.

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"Grazie Azzurri,” read a banner on the tarmac — a sentiment felt across the country after Italy took home its first major trophy since the 2006 World Cup.

The national team was being feted officially by President Sergio Mattarella and Premier Mario Draghi later on Monday, joined by tennis player Matteo Berrettini, who had given Italians another reason for pride on Sunday by reaching the Wimbledon singles final. Berrettini lost to Novak Djokovic, but he joined Mattarella at Wembley to watch the Azzurri finish 1-1 after extra-time and then win on penalties.

There was enough joy to go around to even reach the 10th-floor hospital suite of Pope Francis, who, even before the Italian victory, could savor the triumph of the team from his native Argentina, which won the Copa America earlier at the weekend.

“In sharing the joy for the victory of the Argentine national and of the Italian national squads with the persons near to him, His Holiness dwelled on the meaning of sport and its values,” said Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni, in an update on the pope's convalescence in Rome following July 4 colon surgery.

Bruni said Francis spoke of “that sporting ability to know how to accept any result, even defeat.” Quoting Francis, the spokesman added that he said that means in the face of life's difficulties "you can always put yourself into the game, fighting without surrender, with hope and trust.”

For Italians, the championship was a new beginning for their youthful national team and a country that’s been yearning to return to normality after being hit hard and long by the pandemic.

A cacophony of honking cars, fireworks and singing fans filled the night in Rome as thousands of people took to the streets. As the sun rose on Monday, the noise had died down but not the sentiment.

“It seems to me that this victory is so good for the national spirit after all that 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 spent much of the past 16 months in various stages of lockdown. Italy was the first country outside Asia to get hit by the pandemic and suffered immensely, particularly in the spring of 2020 when hospitals in northern Italy were overwhelmed with patients and the death toll soared.

Italy has recorded more than 127,000 COVID deaths, the highest in the 27-nation European Union.

 

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