Gentle giant Donnarumma completes Italy's renaissance

Donnarumma was Italy's hero on Sunday night
Donnarumma was Italy's hero on Sunday night / LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/Getty Images

Just three years after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy are champions of Europe – thanks in no small part to goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Gianluigi Donnarumma used to tower over his team-mates as a youngster and as the UEFA EURO 2020 final showed, the 22-year-old remains an imposing figure at senior level too.

"I thought it was all finished," Donnarumma admitted, recalling the moment when Jorginho stepped up to take his penalty in the shoot-out. He was not the only one. The entire nation was ready to celebrate; if you have a decisive spot kick, Jorginho is the man you want taking it, just as he did in thesemi-finals against Spain.

England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, however, had other ideas, meaning Donnarumma was called into action once more. "I was already down but I had to keep going and save one more," the UEFA EURO 2020 Player of the Tournament told with a big smile in his face.

"What were your thoughts after Jorginho missed?" Italy captain Giorgio Chiellini was asked after the final whistle. "That we had Gigione," was his quickfire reply. The Italy goalkeeper is used to achieving big things. At 22 years of age he has already played 215 games in Serie A and at Wembley Stadium he donned the Azzurri shirt for the 33rd time.

Yet not even he could have imagined getting his hands on the EURO trophy at such a young age. "Is it true?," he asked, only half-joking. "No, it's an incredible dream guys... what can I say? We have made history, we deserved it because we're a great team."

Leonardo Bonucci, Gianluigi Donnarumma
Italy celebrate with the trophy / GES-Sportfoto/Getty Images

The feat is all the more remarkable considering it was only three years ago that Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with Roberto Mancini subsequently appointed to save what it looked like a sinking ship.

The coach not only did that but transformed the Azzurri into a luxury yacht. "We all know where we started," Donnarumma continued. "A few people believed in us, and in the end, we're here celebrating winning the EURO."

They do so after getting off to a bad start against England when Luke Shaw beat the goalkeeper with a close-range finish. "It could have killed us, but that's not who we are: we never give up," Donnarumma said. "We were extraordinary, we would not let go."

Gianluigi Donnarumma
Donnarumma saves Bukayo Saka's penalty / GES-Sportfoto/Getty Images

Leonardo Bonucci equalised in the second half, but despite the momentum swinging Italy's way, neither side could add to the scoreline and a goalless period of extra time took the game to penalties.

Andrea Belotti had his effort saved by Pickford, but only Harry Kane and Harry Maguire managed to beat Donnarumma from the spot for England, with Marcus Rashford hitting the post and Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho denied by the goalkeeper.

Donnarumma is said to have been 1.90 metres tall at the age of 11 – so much bigger than the other players on the pitch that his mother Marinella had to bring a birth certificate to prove doubters wrong. She was not required this time, even if from the spot her son probably looked like a giant to the England players.