Gianluigi Donnarumma, the hero of Sunday’s Euro 2020 final against England, is the latest in a tradition of great Italian goalkeeping. Here’s why he mattered so much for the Azzurri.
In seven games at Euro 2020 over the last four weeks, Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma recorded three shutouts and conceded just four goals across 719 minutes. He also won two penalty-kick shootouts as the Azzurri captured their first European Championship on Sunday since 1968.
For the four-time World Cup champions and now two-time Euro winners, having a goalie who can do all this should come as no surprise. Italy has had a long line of great ‘keepers over the past few decades. In fact, the 6-foot-5 Donnarumma went from being Gianluigi Buffon’s heir-apparent to European champion and tournament MVP in just a few years.
“We were amazing. We didn’t give up an inch,” Donnarumma said after the win. “We did it from scratch, we are a fantastic team and we deserve this success.”
As England’s players hung their heads in disbelief after the shootout, Donnarumma was mobbed by his jubilant teammates. It could very well be the first trophy in a long line of team and personal successes for the young goalkeeper. Donnarumma could very well go on to be the best goalkeeper of his generation and Italy’s all-time greatest.
Italy’s Gianluigi Donnarumma has unlimited potential after Euro heroics
Only 22, Donnarumma has achieved a lot rather quickly for being both agile and an imposing figure in net. Even some of Italy’s best goalkeepers like Walter Zenga from the 1990s and Francesco Toldo from the aughts never won a major title. Zenga’s Italy was eliminated on penalties by Argentina at the 1990 World Cup and Toldo lost the final of Euro 2000 against France in extra time.
A final so tight was certain to be determined by an individual moment of brilliance. That moment came in the shootout. Donnarumma made two saves, including the one on England’s fifth and decisive kick by 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, and the Italians won the title before a shocked Wembley Stadium crowd.
Donnarumma recently signed with French club Paris Saint-Germain, leaving his boyhood team AC Milan after being named Serie A’s best goalkeeper this past season as he helped the Rossoneri qualify for the Champions League following an eight-year absence. He is certain to help PSG compete for the UEFA Champions League this coming season (and challenge Keylor Navas for a spot at being the starter) and for Italy as they attempt to qualify for next year’s World Cup.
Italy produces great goalkeepers like Brazil does wonderful strikers. It is in the country’s soccer DNA after Dino Zoff, arguably the best goalie in Italian history, captained the Azzurri to the World Cup back in 1982.
Certainly, Donnarumma could be Italy’s starting goalie for the next decade given his age and abilities. Can Donnarumma be like Zoff or even better?
It’s very possible. He’s certainly off to a great start. After all, the Italians captured that title in ‘82 on July 11. Thirty-nine years later to the date, Donnarumma helped Italy to the Euro title following a tense 1-1 draw in London that was resolved 3-2 on penalties.
Donnarumma could even challenge for this year’s Ballon d’Or, which is awarded to the best player on a European club, and the Best FIFA Men’s Player, given to the outstanding star on the planet. Goalkeepers don’t usually win such awards in a sport dominated by alpha-male strikers and goals.
But Donnarumma has already made lots of history over the last four weeks. Standby, because he’s poised to make more.