Leonardo Bonucci described Italy’s Euro 2020 semi-final win against Spain as the “toughest game” of his career and urged his team-mates to complete the job by lifting the trophy.
The Azzurri beat Spain 4-2 on penalties in a gripping contest at Wembley on Tuesday that finished 1-1 at the end of extra time.
Alvaro Morata was introduced from the bench to cancel out Federico Chiesa’s brilliant opener 10 minutes from time, but the striker’s miss proved crucial in the shoot-out.
Jorginho was left to roll in the winning spot-kick as Italy booked their third final appearance in the competition since last going all the way in 1968.
That remains the four-time world champions’ only continental triumph and veteran defender Bonucci is eager to put an end to that 53-year wait against England or Denmark.
“This is the toughest game I have ever played,” Bonucci, who equalled Gianluigi Buffon’s Italian record of 17 European Championship appearances, told RAI Sport.
“I congratulate Spain for what they showed, but once again this Italy showed heart, determination and the ability to push through difficult moments.
“The victory you suffer for is always the most enjoyable one.
“Now there’s one more centimetre to go. Just one more centimetre. It’s incredible what we are doing, but we mustn’t feel satisfied.
“We’re in the final, it’s in five days, and we need the same hunger and spirit of sacrifice to bring this trophy home after many years.”
Italy will be competing in their 10th major tournament final – only Germany (14) have reached more among European nations – after extending their unbeaten run to 33 matches.
Gianluigi Donnarumma kept out Morata’s penalty in the shoot-out to set up Jorginho’s match-winning kick and could not hold back the tears at the end of the match.
“It wasn’t easy, but with the strength of this group we managed to get there,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “It’s impossible to describe this feeling.
“I was relaxed in the shoot-out because I knew I could help the team. We gave our all and now we need one final step to make our dream come true.”
Spain dominated possession (70 per cent) and had 16 shots to Italy’s seven, while also creating the better opportunities both in normal time and extra time.
“They are a very strong side, but this Italy has a huge heart, we never give up and we saw that, because we suffered to the end and we snatched it,” Donnarumma added.
“Spain deserve a lot of credit for causing us so many problems.”
Chiesa’s stunning opener in the English capital was his second goal in three matches for Italy, doubling his tally from his first 28 senior international appearances.
He was named the man of the match and dedicated his award to stricken team-mate Leonardo Spinazzola, who ruptured his Achilles in the quarter-final win against Belgium.
“He would have helped us tonight, but these things can happen in football, we hope we can give him satisfaction in the final,” Chiesa told Sky Sport Italia.
“There are a few days to recover now, but we’ve played every three days this season, so we are ready. We’ll have enough time to recover.
“As I’ve always said, I think about improving and reaping the rewards of my work.”
Italy are only the second European nation to win each of their first six games at a major tournament after the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup.