“There’s been a very tense atmosphere in Rome all day,” said Claudia Iacobazzo, a bartender. “Obviously I want Italia to win, but I like England, so I’d be happy for them too.”
Victory or loss, the European football championships have uplifted Italy, with flags adorning almost every bar, restaurant and home across the country.
Just three years ago, Italy fans were left heartbroken by the national side’s failure to qualify for the World Cup 2018, the first such failure since 1958.
But coach Roberto Mancini has been widely credited with transforming the team into a squad that Italians can be proud of. “Mancini has been absolutely wonderful,” said Andreina Fellini. “He’s managed to keep the players calm, focused and united. There are no prima donnas like there used to be.”
Fellini has been watching Italy’s progress through the tournament at home with her husband, Carmine, 80. “But we have two TVs – so he’s been in one room and I’m in the other. I need to be calm when watching the matches.”
Carmine chipped in: “But she’s the one who swears during the match, not me!” He said he wanted Italy to win, but is not as “football mad” as he used to be. “When Italy won the World Cup in 1982, I was the one who led the celebrations. Nowadays I’m more mature.”
There would have been a lot of expletives used when England scored, just minutes into the start of the game. People who missed the kick-off and were wandering around Rome knew from the sounds emanating from bars and terraces that it wasn’t a goal for Italy.
But there were loud cheers heard around the city when Leonardo Bonucci equalised for Italy minutes into the second half.
“That Italy got to the final is already a beautiful thing,” said Giorgio, who was watching the match from a rooftop bar in Rome’s Monti district. “We weren’t expecting this. It’s a beautiful final, and so I’m happy for England too.”
Expectations were low at the beginning of the tournament, especially with the pandemic and its consequences still looming large. But as Italy progressed, the excitement grew.
For the early Italy games, just a smattering of regulars would gather around the small TV that Daniele Lorenzetti set up outside his traditional Rome drinks kiosk at Piazza Vittorio in the Esquilino neighbourhood. By the time it came to the final, the place was so busy he had to acquire a maxi-screen.
“It’s funny. Only about 5% of Italians really understand football. Then when you get this far, you get thousands of football experts,” said Lorenzetti.
“The thing is, in a way, we’re not so used to supporting Italy, as we’re so focused on our local teams, whether that be Roma, Juventus or Atalanta. The only time we really come together for Italy is when they make it this far in a tournament.”
Carlo Bellan, from Rome, but who has also lived in England, knew the game would be a challenge. “England have the advantage because they’re playing at Wembley. I have faith in Italy … but am happy to see both teams in the final.”