THERE were people on the pitch who thought it was all over, and that was ultimately England’s downfall. Their hopes of football coming home are over.

Italy spoiled the party at Wembley as they recovered from the shock of Luke Shaw’s early opening goal to grow into the European Championship Final, gradually overwhelming England and ultimately lifting the trophy for the first time since 1968.

Yes, it took penalties to get over the line in the end, as Gareth Southgate’s personal shootout trauma continued. For England as a whole, there can rarely have been a more painful moment during their 55 years of hurt, as their agony now goes on.

And it was two men who Southgate brought on specifically to hit penalties who missed in Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, along with fellow substitute Bakayo Saka, with the 19-year-old’s crucial kick saved brilliantly by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

Southgate seemed to have won the early tactical battle, but whether through instruction from their manager or through their own anxiety, the England players tried to hold what they had too early, getting deeper and deeper as the match wore on.

It seemed a matter of time before Italy would pick them off, and it was one of their old gladiators that hauled them level in the second half, Leonardo Bonucci scrambling home from a corner.

And so, the whole tournament came down to who could hold their nerve from 12 yards. And it was Italy who prevailed.

The atmosphere in Wembley was crackling, and it appeared that ticketless fans had breached the barricades to swell the crowd even further. It looked initially that the England players were caught up in the occasion, with a nervy backpass from Harry Maguire going astray and giving Italy an early corner.

But England cleared their lines, cleared their heads, and then rocked Wembley to its foundations. Harry Kane swept the ball wide to the rampaging Kieran Trippier on the right, who took his time before swinging the ball to the back stick for the arriving Shaw. The full back steamed in unchallenged, met the ball sweetly on the half volley, and crashed it home in off Gianluigi Donnarumma’s near post to give England the lead before two minutes had passed.

It was the fastest goal ever in a European Championships Final, and the Manchester United full-back’s first ever goal for his country.

Italy looked shellshocked, and quite apart from their own problems in possession, were being given an almighty headache by the England wing-backs, who were enjoying the freedom of London.

Even when Italy eventually steadied themselves and enjoyed some prolonged possession, England were happy to sit back and challenge their opponents to open them up. But the Italians were lacking in ideas, and their forwards were leaden footed.

That was until 10 minutes before the break, when Federico Chiesa suddenly burst into life off the right. Declan Rice – who had been hugely impressive - had three goes at fouling him, but the Juventus man wriggled free and ripped a low left-foot shot a yard past the post with Jordan Pickford simply watching on in hope.

The pattern of the game was now set, with Italy probing the deep-lying England defence - with little success – and Gareth Southgate’s men happy to absorb the pressure and hit on the counter.

There was a flashpoint at the start of the second half as we witnessed the familiar scene of Raheem Sterling tumbling in the opposition penalty area, but referee Bjorn Kuipers wasn’t fooled and waved away his claims for a spot kick.

Sterling took down Lorenzo Insigne at the other end on the edge of the box, with Insigne getting up to bend the free-kick just wide of the top corner, but Roberto Mancini had seen enough, and Bryan Cristante and Domenico Berardi were thrown on for the ineffective Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Barella.

Finally, Italy pressed Pickford into action, with Insigne wriggling free in the box and forcing the Everton keeper to palm away at his near post. Then Chiesa, who was Italy’s biggest dangerman all evening, worked his way onto his right foot and brought another good save from Pickford as England started to rock.

And irony of all ironies, on 66 minutes, Italy drew level. A corner was floated into the area, and suddenly, it was panic stations. The Italians kept the ball alive, Marco Veratti’s header ricocheted off a post, and there was Bonucci of all people to sweep home.

There only looked to be one winner now, and Bonucci floated a beautiful ball over the top for Berardi to run onto, the substitute catching his volley sweetly with Pickford right in his face and helping the ball agonisingly over the bar.

There was a blow for Italy as the outstanding Chiesa was forced off through injury, and without him, they couldn’t find a winner in regulation time. Though, there was time for Chiellini to pick up the most trademark Chiellini booking you are likely to see, hauling Bukayo Saka back by the scruff of the neck like PC Murdoch tracking down an errant Oor Wullie.

England could have been doing with some fresh impetus going into extra time, but Southgate resisted the urge to throw on fans’ favourite Jack Grealish right away. Half way through the first period though he sent for his maverick talent, but it was Italy who almost hit the front.

Emerson wriggled free of Walker on the left, and put in a delightful ball that Federico Bernardeschi just couldn’t get a toe to before Pickford punched clear.

Grealish and Saka had given England something of a second wind though, and they enjoyed their first period of domination since the early knockings in the second period of extra time, but neither side could find the decisive goal.

In the end, it was a familiar tale of woe for England from the spot. Football is coming to Rome.