In the game and the penalty shoot-out which decided it, England raised our hopes that actually, for the first time, they might win the European Championship but it only made it more painful when they did not.
That Marcus Rashford, who has done so much for this country over the last 15 months and Bukayo Saka, the 19-year-old babies of the team were two of the three England players to miss from 12 yards - Jadon Sancho was the other - was almost spiteful.
After a 1-1 draw, England were beaten 3-2 on yes, you guessed it... penalties.
For a brief moment as the Three Lions raced into a second-minute lead, you dared to dream about an easy victory. Then you remember this was England. And Italy.
It was as good as the night got until Jordan Pickford saved from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, but in hindsight that was the worst bit of the lot. It is the hope that kills you.
Manager Gareth Southgate has been beyond reproach in this tournament but when you play the conservative football he does, you have to win. Southgate knew that but he does not scare easily.
After Luke Shaw’s volley, England fell into the most Italian trap of trying to sit on a 1-0 lead. Had they learnt nothing from their World Cup semi-final?
It is a dangerous game when you are playing at the top of international football, where players are capable of moments of unstoppable brilliance, and the tension of the occasion can force baffling errors.
Leonardo Bonucci’s equaliser was neither really, though it will have done his reputation as a rugged defender no good at all to finish with such centre-forward instincts when Pickford made the latest save of an unpleasantly busy evening.
When the teams were read out before kick-off, it was the name of the manager that was cheered the loudest, and for good reason.
In keeping with his Midas touch throughout the tournament, Southgate’s big pre-match selection call paid off inside two minutes. He had opted for Kieran Trippier at right wing-back, switching formation to the 3-4-3 that defeated Germany and asked Raheem Sterling to be the fourth England player this tournament to play as the right-sided forward, although in truth he was more like a centre-forward, creating space the Three Lions regularly found Trippier in during the opening stages.
Harry Kane, dropping off, was the first to do it and his fellow wing-back Shaw ran onto Trippier’s cross and volleyed it in.
It put to rest the understandable nerves at the start of the game.
Usually in this tournament England raced out of the blocks and eased off the throttle as the half went on and so it was again but when Italy began to get a foothold all Lorenzo Insigne could make of it was a shot dragged wide from the central position he drifted into, met with derisive cheers. Federico Chiesa beat Declan Rice but his effort was wide too.
Trippier’s gesture late in the half to try to whip up the crowd showed England needed a bit of help, although they could hardly complain at a lack of support.
Despite a penalty appeal after Sterling wriggled into the area being emphatically waved away by Bjorn Kuipers, the flow continued in the second as Italy pressure built. Insigne and Chiesa were at the heart of it, the former hitting a free-kick over from the edge of the D, then smashing a wild shot.
When Chiesa sprinted down the right, Walker showed himself to be the only calm person in Wembley, chesting the cross back to Pickford, as he would do again deep in second-half stoppage time.
England had a couple of set pieces but to the rhythm of thunderclaps, Maguire headed both off target.
His next header looked more important, but not for the reason we thought because the corner he conceded was bundled into the net after a scramble which ended with veteran defender Bonucci finishing like a seasoned striker. There were 67 minutes gone and England were against the ropes.
Southgate went to plan B, swapping Saka for Trippier, going back to 4-2-3-1 and putting Sterling on the left, where he has done so much damage in this tournament.
But all it did was drag the game into extra-time, although at least for England neither Chiesa nor Insigne made it into the additional 30 minutes.
Jack Grealish came on in extra-time but all he really achieved was a good kicking which on another day might have earned Jorginho a red rather than yellow card.
Pickford made the first save of the shoot-out, from Belotti, but Rashford hit the base of the post from his even more stuttering than normal run and Gianluigi Donnarumma kept out Sancho and Saka.
England have made great strides in this tournament, but the last step is the hardest.
England: Pickford; Walker, Stones (Sancho 120), Maguire; Trippier (Saka 70), Phillips, Rice (Henderson 74 (Rashford 120)), Shaw; Mount (Grealish 100), Kane Sterling. Unused substitutes: Henderson, Ramsdale, Mings, Coady, Calvert-Lewin, Johnstone, James, Bellingham.
Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (Florenzi 118); Barella (Cristante 54), Jorginho, Verratti (Locatelli 97); Chiesa (Bernardeschi 85), Immobile (Berardi 54), Insigne (Belotti 91). Unused substitutes: Sirigu, Pessina, Acerbi, Bastoni, Toloi, Meret.
Referee: B Kuipers (Netherlands).