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Italy erupts as Europe’s soccer champions return home

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ROME, July 13, (AP): Europe’s new soccer champions were feted on their return home Monday at the Italian presidential palace and then the premier’s office, with Rome’s streets lined by fl ag-waving and car-honking fans. The first Italy team to win the European Championship in 53 years knew it was in for a hectic day when their chartered fl ight from London arrived at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport at dawn and a banner on the tarmac read, “Grazie Azzurri.” Airport workers cheered as the team left the plane. Captain Giorgio Chiellini pumped his fist in the air, and coach Roberto Mancini hoisted the trophy high over their heads. There was even a cheer for defender Leonardo Spinazzola, as he hopped down the steps on one foot, his other in a cast from an Achilles tendon injury. Italian President Sergio Mattarella had been at Wembley Stadium on Sunday night cheering with Azzurri fans as Italy won the Euro 2020 final following a 3-2 penalty shootout win over England. Then Mattarella raced back to Rome to be at the Quirinal presidential palace to greet the team. “I’m not a (soccer) commentator,” he said, “but I thought you deserved the victory well beyond whatever happened during the penalty shootout.”

Italy’s players celebrate in Rome after their victory at the Euro 2020 soccer championships in a final played at Wembley stadium in London on Sunday. Italy beat England 3-2 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw. (AP)

Coach Mancini replied, “Let me thank you for being our No. 1 fan. We saw you exult, that gave us much pleasure.” Mattarella also generously praised another of his guests at the palace, tennis player Matteo Berrettini, who reached the Wimbledon singles fi- nal before succumbing on Sunday to Novak Djokovic. The tennis star, in thanks, gave Mattarella a racket. From the presidential palace, the soccer players boarded the team bus to go to Premier Mario Draghi’s office, applauded on the streets the entire way. There was enough joy to go around to even reach the 10th-fl oor hospital suite of Pope Francis, who, even before the Italian victory, could savor the triumph of the team from his native Argentina, which won the Copa America on Saturday.

Meanwhile, UEFA asked an investigator on Tuesday to study violence by England fans at the European Championship final including at least hundreds who got into Wembley Stadium without tickets. The English Football Association was separately charged with multiple offenses by fans before and during their team’s loss to Italy in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw. The charges relate to booing Italy’s national anthem, a fan who stopped play by running on the pitch, throwing objects, and lighting fireworks. While those offenses typically result in fines, more serious punishment such as full or partial stadium closures can follow the kind of violence seen on Sunday. Fans without tickets broke through security barriers and turnstiles to get in to see England’s first major tournament final in 55 years.

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