Euro 2020: heartbreak and joy for UAE's bleary-eyed football fans

Supporters flock to venues showing the final on big screen as Italy beat England in penalty shootout

It was the dreaded penalty shootout that once again broke hearts of England football fans who helped to pack out venues across the UAE showing the Euro 2020 final on Sunday night.

The gleaming Henry Delaunay trophy will be going to Rome – rather than "coming home" to England – after Italy's Gianluigi Donnarumma denied both Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka the shootout.

Social distancing meant many fans hoping to catch the game on a big screen had to plan their night out, with hotels and bars taking advance bookings for tables.

“It was a brilliant start and the cheer that went up when England scored was huge"
Jules Sattanathan, England fan

The Radisson Hotel in Dubai's Damac Hills had a temporary air-conditioned tent housing two giant screens, which was fully booked by mostly England fans hoping to enjoy a first tournament win since 1966.

However, they were left disappointed once again after Donnarumma's heroics meant another heartbreaking end to a major tournament for England.

“It felt like Italy were there for the taking but England were just a bit too cautious,” said England fan Joe Kimble who watched the game with friends.

“To get to a first final in more than 50 years was an achievement and the late kick-off was always going to make it a tough watch but I had to see the game out.

“Losing on penalties is hard to take but Italy are a good side.

“Seeing so many fans out watching the game so late shows how this England team has captured the imagination. I’m sure there is more to come from them.”

Italy dominated much of the possession and fired in 20 shots on goal to just six from England.

Three Lions captain Harry Kane put in a subdued performance in front of goal, as England struggled to create meaningful chances.

Italy, who had won the World Cup on spot kicks in 2006, held their nerve again to win their first European Championship since 1968.

It has been quite a turnaround for Italy after they failed to qualify for the World Cup held in Russia in 2018.

Italy fan Paolo Nazzari watched the game with fellow Italian supporters at Lounge Café Italiano in Dubai’s Media City.

He said Sunday night’s result had a special meaning for Italians all over the world.

“Italy was one of the countries with the highest level of people that passed away from Covid-19,” he said.

“The victory was a much needed source of joy and relief.

“Being able to watch the game with other Italians in Dubai was also special as more than 90 per cent of Italians haven’t been able to get home since the pandemic, so this brought us together.”

Mr Nazzari, who works as a business development manager for the Italian Chamber of Commerce in the UAE, said the evening was not without tension as his beloved Italy edged out England at Wembley Stadium.

“It was a test of character for the Italian players and their spirit came through in the hardest moments,” said the 29-year-old.

England must now brush aside their disappointment and set their sights on qualification for Fifa World Cup 2022 in Qatar, which resumes on September 2 against Hungary.

“England maybe scored a bit too early but as soon as it went to extra time it felt like penalties were inevitable,” said Jules Sattanathan, 22, a business student who bagged his seat well in advance of Sunday’s 11pm kick-off.

“There was a great atmosphere and it was getting quite tense in extra time.

“It was a brilliant start and the cheer that went up when England scored was huge.

“England has a young team so I’m sure they will come again and the way they have played will stoke a lot of interest in the World Cup next year I’m sure.”

Updated: July 12th 2021, 8:07 AM