Italy's defender Leonardo Bonucci celebrates after winning the UEFA EURO 2020 semi-final football match between Italy and Spain at Wembley Stadium in London on July 6, 2021 (AFP)
Friend or fan?
Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci, despite being in full uniform, had some convincing to do to prove he belonged on the field at Wembley Stadium.
Bonucci celebrated Italy's penalty shootout victory over Spain on Tuesday in the European Championship semifinals by jumping over the advertising hoardings and running up to the stands. But when he tried to return to the field, he was stopped by a steward who mistook him for a fan.
"I found it funny,'' Bonucci said Friday, two days before Italy plays England in the Euro 2020 final. "I was more upset by the hug after rather than the fact that she stopped me. I hugged her and she was a bit cold.
"It's part of their job, I understand, they're there for hours looking at the fans and it can happen. If I recognize her during the game or after the game I'll hug her again.''
The 34-year-old Bonucci has won eight Serie A titles and four Italian Cup trophies at Juventus. He fell just short on the international stage, losing the Euro 2012 final to Spain _ as well as a Champions League final.
Defensive partner Giorgio Chiellini is the only other Italy player remaining from that 4-0 loss to Spain in Kyiv.
Chiellini, who turns 37 next month, also plays for Juventus. The duo has been at the heart of the defense for their club and the national team for much of the past 11 years, playing more than 330 matches together.
"They are monsters,'' said the now retired Andrea Barzagli, who formed the famous BBC trio with them for several years.
And they are close friends off the field as well.
"How is my relationship with Giorgio? I'll just say that we return from London on the 12th and we'll see each other again on the 14th to go on vacation together,'' Bonucci said. "That says everything about our relationship on and off the field.''
Bonucci has played in all six of Italy's matches at Euro 2020, while Chiellini missed two with injury.
They will have to use all their experience to deal with England's young and fast attack, which seems to have finally clicked into gear with eight goals in the three knockout matches compared to the two it scored in the three group matches.
"Youngsters against little old men, let's put it like that,'' Bonucci said with a smile. "Certainly the England forwards are very strong, we will need to pay a lot of attention to them, not just us defenders but the whole team.
"We know how they could cause us problems and we will have to be very, very careful about the speed of their wingers and the power of their center forwards, whether it's (Harry) Kane or (Dominic) Calvert-Lewin.''
The little old men will need to be ready.
(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)