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There was nothing to separate the two sides on the field, but Gareth Southgate's men failed agonisingly at the final hurdle and their 55-year wait for a major trophy goes on.
Despite a valiant effort, the familiar foe of a penalty shootout proved just too much for the Three Lions, who have much to take away from the tournament, particularly with a World Cup in Qatar next year.
They pushed a streetwise and experienced Italy side to their limits, and won many admirers along the way, but history will remember Italy as worthy winners, with their own redemption narrative at the heart of their success.
England took the lead within two minutes, when Kieran Trippier - brought into the side at the expense of Bukayo Saka - picking out Luke Shaw at the back stick for his first ever England goal.
The Manchester United full-back struck the ball crisply on the half volley past the helpless Gianluigi Donnarumma in the Italian goal.
It was the fastest goal in European Championship final history, and set Gareth Southgate's side off to a flyer.
Italy, unbeaten in 33 matches under Roberto Mancini coming into the final, looked sluggish during the opening stages at Wembley.
England, in contrast, looked completely unfazed by the occasion, despite the weight of history hanging over them.
After the initial excitement, the game settled into a more manageable pace as the first half wore on, with Italy beginning to probe more, and England content to sit back and allow the Italians to pass in front of them and wait for a moment to counter attack.
Federico Chiesa, one of Italy's stars of the tournament, then fired a warning shot in England's direction with a stinging low shot that left Jordan Pickford rooted to the spot.
However, it fizzed past the right post and England could breathe a sigh of relief.
Marco Verratti also had a tame effort collected by Pickford, but the PSG man and his midfield colleagues were starting to show the level of control that brought them to the tournament's showpiece.
England stood firm, and made it to half-time with Shaw's early strike the difference between the two sides.
The second half began with Raheem Sterling making a surging run into the box, but his claims for a penalty were categorically shut down by Dutch referee Björn Kuipers.
The hordes of English fans were then made to sweat after Kuipers awarded the Italians a free-kick in an extremely promising position, but Lorenzo Insigne failed to work Pickford and crashed the ball by the post.
Italy continued to show their teeth, with Insigne managing to wriggle free in the box after picking up on a loose ball.
His shot for a narrow angle was beaten away by Pickford.
The Azzurri were pressing, though. Chiesa was by far and away their best attacking option, and brought another smart stop out of Pickford with a rasping effort after some trickery in the box.
The Everton goalkeeper leapt low to his left and got a strong hand to the ball, pushing it out of danger.
At the far end, John Stones leapt to meet a corner, and saw his effort saved by Donnarumma, a timely reminder that England still carried a threat, particularly from set plays.
Then, the pressure told.
A corner conceded by Harry Maguire wasn't dealt with confidently by the England back line, and from the resulting stramash veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci was able to poke home from close range.
The goal was as much as their pressure deserved, and certainly changed the atmosphere at Wembley.
Bonucci then almost turned provider with a fantastic pass over the top, but substitute Domenico Berardi could only loft the ball over the bar.
The tide had well and truly turned, though. England were on the ropes, and Italy were looking to land another - potentially decisive - blow.
Outside of a few substitutes and a long delay for an injury to Chiesa, the final minutes of the game ticked by with little incident, as extra-time started to feel inevitable.
Saka almost broke free down the wing, but was unceremoniously hauled back by Giorgio Chiellini, bringing his exquisite brand of s***housery to a second Euro final.
He was booked for his troubles.
The final whilst blew, confirming an extra 30 minutes would be played with the sides locked together.
That extra-time started quietly, with England beginning to look tired after spending much of the game defending.
Kalvin Phillips had Donnarumma diving across his goal, but both teams seemed to be playing a cagey game, knowing that one mistake could be disastrous and decisive.
A huge cheer arose from the English supporters as Southgate readied Jack Grealish, with the Aston Villa man hoping to provide a creative spark that his team had lacked for much of the game.
It was Italy who had the first real opportunity of extra-time, when Federico Bernardeschi caused chaos in the England box after a low cross, Pickford just about did enough to put him off.
The first half of extra-time fizzled out, and just 15 minutes remained for either side to avoid penalties.
Bernardeschi continued his efforts in the second half, stinging Pickford's hands with a free-kick from distance, but - despite their possession and control - Italy had struggled to break England down, and they hadn't gone away.
In fact, the men in white suddenly seemed the more confident side, with Grealish, Sterling and Saka all providing energy.
However, it came to nothing, and the seconds ticked by, making the penalty shootout seem unavoidable.
Southgate span the wheel, bringing on more attacking options including Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, potentially with the shootout in mind.
There was still defending to do, though.
If England were to claim a first major trophy in 55 years, they were always going to have to do it the hard way.
Pickford and Donnarumma now had the opportunity to make themselves the hero of the piece, in front of the England fans, but - as it always is - all of those taking the kicks had the opportunity to become the villain.
Berardi scored first for Italy, before England's talisman Harry Kane levelled proceedings.
Andrea Belotti then had his penalty brilliantly saved by Pickford, setting up an opportunity for the home side.
Harry Maguire pressed home that advantage by blasting home, it was advantage to England.
Bonucci scored, and Italy found a lifeline when Rashford struck his spot-kick against the post.
Honours were even once more.
Bernardeschi restored Italy's frail advantage, piling the pressure on Sancho, who was to take England's fourth penalty.
Donnarumma saved his limp effort, handing Italy the chance to claim the title.
With Jorginho's kick, Euro 2020 could be decided.
However, Pickford kept England alive with a fingertip save onto the post, dragging England back from the brink.
The burden of pressure then fell to 19-year-old Saka.
But Donnarumma saved, and Italy were the champions.
Featured Image Credit: PA
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