Soccer fans around New York filled the bars and streets of Queens over the weekend as the peak of the summer’s international soccer schedule kicked off. A full slate of games was set for Sunday, headlined by the European Championship final between England and Italy.
It was England’s first real chance to snap a brutal international cup drought, finally in the final for the first time, previously reaching the semifinal round in 1968 and 1996. Italy made their fourth appearance in the continental championship game, looking for their second title. The Italians were victorious on home turf in 1968 before coming up short in the final in 2000 and 2012.
By noon, Clintonville St in Whitestone, home to a handful of Italian shops and delis, was packed with fans waving flags, singing, and showing off fancy cars and scooters. With Queens home to some of the most passionate fans in the nation, it was a beautiful sight to see. As New York City continues to reopen, the cup final was one of a handful of matches that brought swarms of soccer fans to watch parties, bars, and street parties, cheering on their home countries.
“We had four days to prepare and 35 tables were reserved, so we knew we’d have at least 350 people right away,” said Vinny LaPuma, who co-owns Tutto Calcio Espresso Bar in Whitestone with partner Joe Pirreca. “The word spread like wildfire and there ended up being probably over a thousand.”
The match itself was an interesting one, with the deadlock broken within minutes of kickoff. Just past the two minute mark, a great English attack ended with a cross that found Luke Shaw near the back post. The Manchester United defender thumped the ball past goalkeeper Guanluigi Donnarumma to give open a 1-0 lead at London’s Wembley Stadium, sending the local crowd into a mayhem.
For the next hour, the two teams engaged in a tough and physical battle as the Italians tried to force their way back into the match. A 67th minute corner kick would do the job, as a loose ball lingered in front of Jordan Pickford and the English goal. Leonardo Bonucci got a foot to the ball, tapping it home before celebrating with the traveling supporters.
“England’s goal was a stunner. The crowd was quiet until Italy shot on net,” said Massino Di Giovanna.
“Then when Bonucci tied it up that changed everything. It took the air out of England and put some life back in the crowd.”
The match couldn’t be decided in regulation or in the following extra time, and headed into a penalty shootout. Italy was lucky to make it there without seeing a red card, as a few heavy challenges came close to dangerous play.
England hasn’t had much success in penalty kicks, especially on a stage as big as the European championships. Far too many cup runs have fallen short in a shootout, and with a chance to win the cup in their own stadium, tensions were as high as they could be for the relatively young team.
It looked like England would shake their penalty woes as Pickford saved the second Italian attempt, with the crowd roaring at Wembley. However, just a few attempts later, Marcus Rashford’s penalty bounced off the post, leveling the shootout. Donnuramma and Pickford traded saves against Jadon Sancho and Jorginho, but a third consecutive English miss, this time from Bukayo Saka, solidified Italy as champions.
In Queens, celebrations erupted throughout the various Italian communities, with fans immediately taking to the streets. Crowds danced around, drove around in caravan parades, and took a good moment to cherish the victory.
Even Italians who stayed home celebrated in style. “I get too nervous to watch games in a big crowd, so I stay home and watch the games with my kids and the rest of my family,” said Sabino Curcio, owner of Anthony & Son Panini Shoppe in Williamsburg and a co-host on the “Growing Up Italian” podcast and social media accounts. “During the game my uncle said he was going to jump in the pool with his clothes on if Italy won. So when Italy won I felt like I had to jump in too!”
Rosario Di Giovanna, a native of Sicily and Elmhurst resident known for his collection of Lambretta and Vespa scooters, celebrated with his daughter Francesca, son Massimo, and daughter-in-law Natalia.
Natalia, a native of Argentina, who also collected a title over the weekend at the Copa America. “Italy hasn’t won a major title since 2006. Argentina not since 1993. To see them both win on the same weekend is a once in a lifetime occurrence,” said Massimo, “Marriage is easy when we both win.”