Chiellini saw Saka getting past him and sprung into action

Credit: AFP

The talk pre-game was that Giorgio Chiellini could be targeted. 

A brilliant defender, but past his best. Potentially vulnerable to England’s pace. Arguably showing signs of cracking up with his pre-penalty routine in the semi-final against Spain.

He may have been underestimated. 

Chiellini had a masterful game alongside Leonardo Bonucci, limiting England to a total of two shots on target in 120 minutes.  

From the outset he seemed more focused than in the semi-final, assuming his usual chirpy aspect for the national anthem before activating bestia mode, winning headers, putting his body in the way, marshalling the team around him with vigour.

His night was capped with one of the most effective and cynical fouls you will ever see. 

In added time in the second half, Bukayo Saka raced past him on the right flank. 

The chance of a game-sealing late break was too great, so Chiellini changed his shepherding hand on the top of Saka’s shirt to a tight fist: 

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Chiellini knew he was beaten, so Saka had to be taken out:

Credit: REUTERS

…quite dramatically:

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Chiellini is a different breed to the typical football hardman, he knows how to combine ultraviolence with faux-gentlemanly conduct. 

Begin the apology protocol:

Credit: REUTERS

And look at that, all friends again:

Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

The result for Chiellini? A yellow card he could afford. About as close as you could be to a red, given the force with which he pulled Saka down. Equally, never going to be a red, and Chiellini knew as much. A booking was a small price to pay for preventing what would have been a dangerous break.

Credit: SHUTTERSTOCK

The result for Saka? Who knows. It was not an easy game for him even before its sad conclusion. It’s too simple to draw a line from being cut down in his prime by Chiellini’s cynicism and missing a penalty later, but it’s all part of the steady drip- drip of mindgames. 

Chiellini sealed his status as the villain-in-chief later:

🏆 It’s coming Rome!!! #Euro2020 pic.twitter.com/tZBZtwWQOX

— Giorgio Chiellini (@chiellini) July 11, 2021

Alright mate, you’ve won the Euros, you don’t need to nick our song too.

The delight in his and Bonucci’s face will also be hard to gaze upon for England fans this morning. Don’t look directly at it:

“Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini… they could go to Harvard University to give classes about how to be a central defender. They’re quality. When I say quality I don’t just say creative players. Chiellini-Bonucci, it’s absolutely beautiful to see”. 🇮🇹

José Mourinho – 2018 pic.twitter.com/ZkM9VtuxFZ

— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) July 12, 2021

But it’s hard to hate Chiellini for long, especially when he dedicated Italy’s victory to healthcare workers. “The faces of women, men, old, young, children and those who saved our lives: doctors You pushed us. You helped us. You sang with us," he said.

It was a tense night of football, not a classic for the meme creators. Chiellini has delivered for them as well, some of whom felt he was acting altruistically:

Chiellini saved Saka’s life 🙏🏽

(📷: @pepromano ) pic.twitter.com/D5J7GGJFkx

— Troll Football (@TrollFootball) July 11, 2021

Don’t cross the Road when the signal is 🔴RED🔴.
Issued in Public Interest..#EURO2020 #Chiellini #Saka pic.twitter.com/ye8MEmVm1R

— Abir Bhattacharya (@IamAbir82) July 12, 2021

Some tried to establish his inspiration:

Italian captain Chiellini clearly watched She’s the Man before this final and took a move out of Vinnie Jones’ playbook #Euros2021 #Euro2020Final pic.twitter.com/cMSLFtIcU8

— Amy Robinson (@amysavannah_95) July 11, 2021

I don’t know who did it i better, #Chiellini or Madonna’s dancer! #saka #Euro2020Final pic.twitter.com/YcfN8MEK4M

— Hovid-19 (@Barrowboy77) July 12, 2021

One thing is clear, after Sunday night, immortality beckons for Chiellini:

“Wronged by Chiellini” – Van Gogh, 2021 #ITAENG pic.twitter.com/96JvL0lbnB

— PTRVDA (@PTRVDA) July 11, 2021

Hang it in the Uffizi.