‘No one believed we could do it’: Mancini delights in Italy’s Euro 2020 final place

Roberto Mancini believes Italy have proved their doubters wrong by reaching the final of Euro 2020. “Almost no one believed we could do it, and yet we are into the final,” Mancini said after the semi-final win over Spain.

“There are games where you have to suffer,” the Italy head coach added. “They can’t all be as smooth as our progress so far. We knew it would be a tough game. That is why the players and everyone who worked with us over last three years deserve great credit, because it wasn’t easy.”

Italy prevailed in a penalty shootout at Wembley to book their first final appearance since Euro 2012. The Azzurri were beaten by Spain then, and by France at Euro 2000. Their first and only European Championship title came in 1968. “We are delighted to have provided this wonderful evening’s entertainment to the Italian people. We still have one game to go,” Mancini said.

“In terms of ball possession Spain are the best around,” the 56-year-old added. “They caused us problems, we had to dig in when we needed to, and create opportunities where we could. We wanted to reach the final and kept trying until the end. Penalties are a lottery, but I want to take my hat off to Spain, they are a wonderful team.”

The Spain manager, Luis Enrique, said he had “no complaints” after the defeat. “It is not a sad night for me, not at all,” he told a news conference. “Of course there is some disappointment but that is elite football. You have to learn to win and lose.”

“We talked a lot about how we wanted to play, the players believed in it and I can only congratulate them, I have no complaints. We have shown that we are a team. Now it is important to recover and then we will meet again ahead of World Cup qualification.”

The former Barcelona head coach singled out Barça midfielder Pedri for special praise. “No 18-year-old has done what he has,” Luis Enrique added. “His performances, his interpretation of the role, how he finds free space, his quality, his character … I have never seen anyone do what he does, it is devoid of all logic.”

The Italy centre-back Leonardo Bonucci described the semi-final at Wembley as “the toughest game I have ever played” and urged his team to finish the job on Sunday and win the nation’s first European Championship since 1968.

“I congratulate Spain for what they showed, but once again this Italy showed heart, determination and the ability to push through difficult moments,” Bonucci said. “Now there is one more centimetre to go. It is incredible what we are doing. We will be back here in five days and we must have the same attitude to bring home this trophy that we have lacked for 50 years.”

The winger Federico Chiesa was awarded the Uefa star of the match award after his superb curling effort put Italy ahead in the second half. “I cannot describe my emotion by words,” the 23-year-old said afterwards.

“Spain were great, they have star players but we fought until the end and we did it. When [Manuel] Locatelli missed the first penalty, everyone was calm saying we can do it, and at the end our group helped us in the moment.”