Chris Smalling explains how Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci helped Italy beat England, admitting he’d have done ‘exactly the same thing’ when Bukayo Saka was dragged back by the collar.
As an Englishman living and working in Rome, Smalling had mixed feelings watching the UEFA EURO 2020 Final play out at Wembley.
He confessed to leaping off the sofa when Luke Shaw scored within two minutes, and being gutted at Bonucci’s equaliser and the penalty shoot-out.
As a defender, Smalling could not help but admire the way Chiellini and Bonucci kept the scoreline down during that opening 30 minutes of difficulty.
“They might not be the most skilful but it is their experience, how quick they are in their minds, that separates them from the rest,” Smalling told The Telegraph.
“Chiellini is even older than Bonucci but they have seen it all and they are able to handle so many different situations. Take the final: for the first half an hour I thought it could be 2-0 or 3-0 [to England]. Italy’s experienced players were able to manage that.
“They have been in so many situations and they have won so much. But I doubt they have ever had a final where they have totally bossed it for 90 minutes.
“So they take the sting out of certain periods of games. They get players to group together and demand certain things of people. They simplify the young players’ roles. You saw them organising a lot and speaking to individuals, especially in the first 25 minutes. Eventually Italy got a little bit of a foothold and got more of the ball.”
When Saka did get away from Chiellini, the Italy defender took one for the team and simply grabbed hold of his collar.
It prompted some England fans to even start a petition demanding the game be replayed, but Smalling knows the importance of the gesture.
“That was quite something, wasn’t it? It’s horrible to see as an England fan, but if the roles were reversed you’d do the same thing in the dying minutes.”
Smalling had been hoping his excellent form for Roma would earn a recall to the England squad, but doesn’t seem to be in Gareth Southgate’s plans.
“It definitely does sting a bit. Especially at certain times when I feel I have done well and been consistent. Under Gareth, it feels like no matter how well I do that ship has sailed under him. But you never know what happens in the future.”
Chiellini was given a yellow card for this tackle on Saka
— ESPN (@espn) July 11, 2021