In the end, it was a tale of two penalties for Leonardo Bonucci.
The Italy defender coolly converted the first one to level against Germany in their European Championship quarterfinal on Saturday. But he saw his second spot-kick saved by Manuel Neuer in the shootout after the match had finished 1-1 following extra time.
Germany went on to win 6-5 on penalties and defeat Italy for the first time in a competitive match, sealing a spot in the semifinals against either France or Iceland.
“We showed that we are at the top level,” Bonucci said. “I am proud of what we have done. There is just the regret that we missed a penalty more than them.”
“For the rest, I applaud my teammates and the coach because even though we have only been together about a month and a half, it feels like they have been my teammates for years and years in the dressing room.”
Bonucci had never taken a penalty before, apart from during shootouts. But he showed determination to step up and fire into the bottom right corner with 12 minutes remaining.
In the subsequent shootout, Bonucci attempted to put his penalty in the opposite corner and his shot was saved by Neuer.
“When I struck my first penalty, during the match, Neuer stood still right until the end, even though I stopped during the run up,” Bonucci said. “I could have done better with the second penalty, but he was good in reading me.”
Bonucci has been a rock in the Italy defence throughout the tournament. Along with Juventus teammates Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini — Italy’s so-called BBC — he provides a solid back line for both club and country.
At Euro 2016, he anchored a defence that didn’t concede a goal against Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, or Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He also helped Italy shut out two-time reigning European Champions Spain in the round of 16.
Bonucci showed his skill in launching attacks from the back as well during Italy’s five matches, notably with a 40-metre pass for the Azzurri’s first goal in the 2-0 win over Belgium.
Against Germany, Bonucci once again stood tall as another sterling performance restricted Italy’s opponent to just three attempts on target.
“We said at the start of this adventure that we had to go out with our heads held high,” he said. “Throughout the 120 minutes we matched the world champions.”
“It hurts, there is a lot of disappointment. But these men — from the coach, to the president, and all the players — have been great men.... I am proud to have been part of this group.”