England’s long wait for a major trophy goes on after Gareth Southgate’s side saw their Euro 2020 dreams end in a heartbreaking penalty shoot-out defeat to Italy.
The nation was at a standstill for the Three Lions’ biggest match in 55 years and Luke Shaw’s early stunner at a rocking Wembley had fans dreaming that football would be coming home rather than going to Rome.
But Italy wrested control of Sunday’s final and deservedly levelled through Leonardo Bonucci, with the match going to extra-time and on to spot-kicks after it ended 1-1.
England boss Southgate failed with the key effort in the Euro 96 semi-final loss to Germany and Wembley witnessed another gutting shoot-out loss in the country’s first ever European Championship final.
Jordan Pickford denied Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, but Marcus Rashford hit the post before fellow substitutes Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were denied as Italy won the shoot-out 3-2.
It was a crushing end to a summer that will live long in the memory after Southgate’s side went agonisingly close to following in the footsteps of Sir Alf Ramsey’s 1966 World Cup heroes by triumphing on home soil.
Pre-match chaos made way for a perfect start as Shaw hammered home his first England goal after just 117 seconds – the quickest ever goal in a European Championship final.
But England’s intensity eventually tapered off and the Azzurri grew into proceedings, with Roberto Mancini’s men dictating the play in the second half and deservedly drew levelling through Bonucci.
The match went into extra-time and then goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma helped silence the partisan crowd of 67,173 at Wembley and seal Italy’s second Euro crown.
Southgate gathered his devastated players as Italy celebrated at the end of a night that started in disordered fashion as ticketless fans stormed gates and turnstiles.
Boos for Italy were followed by a guttural roar as England made their way on to the pitch – a racket that perhaps explained the jittery early Harry Maguire backpass which went straight out for a corner.
But such nerves were settled superbly after England dealt with that set piece.
Shaw – playing left wing-back after Southgate surprisingly started with a 3-4-3 formation – effortlessly played out of the press and on to Kane, who sprayed an exceptional ball to Kieran Trippier on the opposite flank.
The 30-year-old showed his experience and quality by hesitating before sending over a cross to the back post, where Shaw had been allowed to continue his run and strike home from six yards.
Wembley had never been as loud as when the left-back wheeled off in celebration, with Italy appearing overawed, even shell-shocked, by England’s early intensity.
This was a fight that the Three Lions were up for but as play became scrappy the Azzurri began to ask more questions.
Lorenzo Insigne dragged a shot off target before Federico Chiesa sent a low strike from distance skipping just wide.
Shaw saw a threatening cross just evaded team-mates, but Italy ended the opening period on top as Ciro Immobile, Marco Verratti and Bonucci all tried their luck.
Raheem Sterling saw half-hearted penalty appeals ignored at the start of a second half Italy dominated for the most part.
While Maguire and John Stones threatened with headers, Pickford was called into action by Insigne and had to produce a fine stop to thwart Chiesa.
The Azzurri pressure was mounting and they levelled in the 67th minute.
Maguire cleared a threatening cross and from the resulting corner diminutive Verratti got on to the flicked-on cross. Pickford tipped the header on to the post and Bonucci reacted quickest to direct home.
The blue wall behind that goal went wild and Southgate turned to Saka in place of Trippier as England moved to a back four in a bid to change the dynamics of a match that was getting away from them.
Substitute Domenico Berardi fired over under pressure from Pickford when picked out by a stunning Bonucci pass.
The lively Chiesa limped off and a pitch invader led stewards a merry dance, with Giorgio Chiellini booked for wiping out Saka in stoppage time as the match ended 1-1 after 90 minutes.
Italy’s grip of the midfield battle loosened but there was to be no breakthrough in the first period of extra-time, with Kalvin Phillips coming closest when firing a fine effort just wide.
Southgate turned to fan favourite Jack Grealish in that half, with Pickford repelling a long-range Federico Bernardeschi free-kick when play resumed.
Grealish was blocked and Donnarumma just about dealt with a Kane cross, while exceptional defending from Chiellini stopped Sterling.
Grealish was left in agony after being caught by Jorginho. The Italy midfielder was perhaps fortunate to only receive a yellow card.
Italy handball appeals were ignored and Bryan Cristante glanced a header across the face of goal as the match went to penalties.
The nation was dreaming when Pickford denied Belotti, but Rashford and Sancho – both brought on for spot-kicks – failed from the spot. The first hit the post, the other was denied by Donnarumma.
There was renewed hope when Pickford saved penalty expert Jorginho’s attempt, only for teenager Saka to see his strike stopped to spark wild Italian celebrations.