There’s just something about a penalty shootout at a European Championships that brings out the sparkle in Italian players. Nine years ago, it was Andrea Pirlo who made Joe Hart blush with a Panenka spot kick at Euro 2012. On Tuesday night, Jorginho converted from 12 yards out with a trademark hop, skip and a jump to send Italy into the Euro 2020 final.
That would have been enough for many fans to speak glowingly of the 29-year-old, but his performance over the preceding 120 minutes was just as special. On a night when Italy, disrupted by an effective Spain game plan, struggled to find their best form, Jorginho did more than anyone else to get them over the line.
Spain did their best to control the centre of the pitch, and they generally succeeded. Indeed, Luis Enrique’s side claimed a 70% share of possession with Nicolo Barella and Marco Verratti man-marked out of the game. This saw Italy make more mistakes and give up the ball more often than at any other stage of the tournament so far.
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Jorginho, however, wasn’t ready to let the match, and Italy’s chance of Euro 2020 glory, bypass him. He made eight interceptions against an opposition midfield unit intent on passing around him - that was more than any other player in a single match in European Championships history.
Playing in front of a Wembley crowd, Jorginho demonstrated his qualities to those in the English game who have doubted the Brazilian-born Italian international. Written off by many as a pass master with no purpose, the embodiment of ‘Sarri-ball’ at its most insipid, the 29-year-old’s importance as a metronomic influence for the Azzurri cannot be questioned.
At club level, 2021 has also been a good year for Jorginho. The appointment of Thomas Tuchel as Chelsea boss in January raised the game of several players at Stamford Bridge, but few to the extent of the Italian. For club and country, Jorginho is now a linchpin. Neither Chelsea nor Italy’s current system would work without the control he provides.
"If he wins the European Championship, he is a candidate for the Ballon d'Or,” Maurizio Sarri, who demanded Jorginho as his first signing after being appointed at Chelsea, explained after Italy’s semi-final win over Spain. “He is a refined player, and that's why everyone doesn't understand him.
“He makes everything seem easy - it is his greatness. When I went to Chelsea, we managed to snatch him from Manchester City. At first it was hard to understand him, the fans, the journalists. Now, I see that he is appreciated. He was also the captain of Chelsea.”
Alongside Barella and Verratti, with Manual Locatelli another option, Jorginho gives Italy exceptional balance in the centre of the pitch. While Roberto Mancini’s side is founded on a strong defensive basis and an instinct to break on the counter, it’s the trio in the middle who act as the engine.

Thomas Tuchel celebrates Chelsea's Champions League quarter-final win with Jorginho

Image credit: Getty Images

Mancini can swap Verratti for Locatelli and Barella for Matteo Pessina, and did so on Tuesday night. Jorginho, however, has no deputy. He is peerless in the Italy squad, which is why Mancini kept him on for the full 120 minutes (plus the penalty shootout) against Spain. Only Gianluigi Donnarumma has played more minutes for Italy at Euro 2020 than Jorginho.
Individual awards, like the Ballon d’Or, are rarely, if ever, handed out to system players, with sparkling attackers capable of mercurial moments of individual brilliance most commonly favoured. But if they were, Jorginho would surely be in the discussion for recognition. Without him, Chelsea might not have won the Champions League last season and Italy almost certainly wouldn’t have made the Euro 2020 final.
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