In the intoxicating buildup to the European Championship final Sunday, the soccer world was overrun by tales of England and Wembley Stadium, of the Three Lions, Harry Kane and 55 years of English heartache in major tournaments.

There was, however, a second team seeking redemption of very different kinds, a blue-clad Italian squad that happened to have played some of the finest soccer over the month-long spectacle.

The setting and the start swayed England’s way, but as a tense affair in northwest London uncoiled — from a 1-1 draw through 90 minutes of regulation and 30 of extra time to an extraordinary penalty-kick tiebreaker — Italy extended English misery and celebrated its first continental crown since 1968.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, a 22-year-old goalkeeper, made two saves and another English attempt hit the post as the Azzurri prevailed, 3-2, in a shootout.

Italy also made amends for missing the World Cup in 2018, one of the program’s darkest moments after four global crowns, most recently in 2006.

“We had the disappointment of [missing] the World Cup, but you always need to believe, you always need to strive for the top, and you must never give up,” said defender Leonardo Bonucci, who scored the tying goal in the second half. “This is a renaissance for Italian football.”

It was a gutting blow to English football. Appearing in its first European final, England was seeking its first major trophy since it won the World Cup at home in 1966.

“The balloon is burst, and the feeling around the country will be very empty, I know,” Coach Gareth Southgate said. “That’s hard for everybody to take. We wanted to give everybody one more night that would continue the biggest party ever. We haven’t been able to do that, but I hope we’ve given everybody some incredible memories.”

England’s Jordan Pickford made two saves in the tiebreaker, including in the fifth round, which kept his team’s hopes alive. However, Donnarumma dived to his left to stop a bid by 19-year-old Bukayo Saka to clinch the title.

It was his second consecutive save; he went in the same direction to thwart Jadon Sancho’s attempt. Earlier, Marcus Rashford hit the post in the first of three straight misses by England.

Southgate took responsibility for the shooters, saying it was “my call. That’s my decision. That’s not down to the players. We know they were the best takers left on the pitch.”

England has never beaten Italy in a major tournament. The Azzurri extended their unbeaten streak to 34 matches, spanning more than 2½ years and one short of the record shared by Brazil and Spain.

“We are very happy for Italians everywhere,” Coach Roberto Mancini said, “because we really have given them a wonderful month of success and joy.”

England owned the first half, taking the lead on Luke Shaw’s goal in the second minute. Italy ruled the second half, drawing even on Bonucci’s in the 67th.

Wembley, the venue for all but one of England’s matches during this transcontinental competition, was not at full capacity because of pandemic guidelines. It was, however, packed with emotion, color and noise — a welcome return to soccer madness after more than a year of precautions and small or nonexistent crowds.

Any fears of a careful, conservative first half were put to rest almost right away.

In its own end, England unlocked Italy’s first wave of pressure and discovered opportunity. Striker Harry Kane dropped deep and sprayed it wide to right back Kieran Trippier, unmarked and approaching the top corner of the penalty area.

Trippier lofted the ball deep into the back side of the box. Shaw watched its flight and, at the six-yard box, waited for the short hop before he slammed a left-footed one-timer into the low near corner for his first international goal and the earliest in Euro final history.

Italy had not trailed in its previous 18 matches, dating from a Nations League match against Bosnia in September 2020.

The Italians labored to find any freedom. England seemed to anticipate every move, clogging channels and blocking crosses.

“Then,” Mancini said, “we started to take control.”

The match turned after intermission. Pickford made a sensational diving save on Federico Chiesa’s threat. Italian momentum continued to swell. England was in trouble.

The equalizer felt as if it was coming. Off a corner kick, the ball squirted to Marco Verratti on the back side for a five-yard header off the post. The rebound fell to Bonucci on the doorstep for an easy finish — his eighth goal in an 11-year international career and just the second conceded by England in the tournament.

The Italians attacked with fluidity and fire, recognizing a wounded adversary. Pickford and England, though, escaped trouble.

England dictated terms for much of the last overtime period, but after an uneventful finish, the title had to be decided in a shootout for the first time since 1976.

England led 2-1 after two rounds but did not convert again.

“The coach really made us believe we could achieve something special,” Bonucci said. “We really believed we could become a great side. We’ve done that now, and now the cup is coming back with us to Rome.”

— Steven Goff