The nation was at a standstill for the Three Lions’ biggest match in 55 years and Luke Shaw’s early stunner at a rocking Wembley had fans dreaming that football would be coming home rather than going to Rome.
But Italy wrested control of Sunday’s final and deservedly levelled through Leonardo Bonucci, with the match going to extra-time and on to spot-kicks after it ended 1-1.
England boss Southgate failed with the key effort in the Euro 96 semi-final loss to Germany and Wembley witnessed another gutting shoot-out loss in the country’s first ever European Championship final.
Jordan Pickford denied Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, but Marcus Rashford hit the post before fellow substitutes Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were denied as Italy won the shoot-out 3-2 to make sure of silverware.
It was a crushing end to a summer that will live long in the memory after Southgate’s side went agonisingly close to following in the footsteps of Sir Alf Ramsey’s 1966 World Cup heroes by triumphing on home soil.
Pre-match chaos made way for a perfect start as Shaw hammered home his first England goal after just 117 seconds – the quickest ever goal in a European Championship final.
But England’s intensity eventually tapered off and the Azzurri grew into proceedings, with Roberto Mancini’s men dictating the play in the second half and deservedly drew levelling through Bonucci.
The match went into extra-time and then goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma helped silence the 65,000-plus partisan crowd at Wembley and seal Italy’s second Euro crown.