England and Italy fans fill patios as teams battle for Euro 2020 final

Fans of Italy's national soccer squad took to Canada's streets in raucous droves on Sunday as they celebrated their team's triumph in the Euro Cup final and shook off some of the last vestiges of pandemic-related public health measures.

Italy beat England 3-2 for the European championship, eking out the win in penalty shootouts after the two sides tied 1-1 in regular play.

Fans who had flocked to bar and restaurant patios to take in the match immediately launched into noisy celebrations, shedding masks and shunning long-standing physical distancing protocols to show support for Italy's triumph.

In Montreal, cries of "Forza Italia" punctured the air, which quickly filled with streams of red canister smoke fanned away by flag-waving fans -- one in revolutionary pose atop the 65-year-old Caffe Italia.

"It's amazing," said Daniel Rus, 31, who watched the game in the heart of Montreal's Little Italy neighbourhood. "Obviously all the TVs were taken, there's such a crowd here, but ... it was awesome. It was a good time."

The Toronto resident was one of thousands who turned out for what restaurants had fully expected to be one of the busiest days since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Owners of Italian restaurants and English pubs said they were prepared for their patios to fill up, at least to the capacity allowed under remaining rules meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Rocco Mastrangelo, who owns Cafe Diplomatico in Toronto, said the championship series has reminded him of his restaurant's days before the pandemic hit.

"I'm excited, and have butterflies in my stomach. We opened reservations especially for the finals night and we're completely booked with 160 people, which is a big chunk of our patio's total capacity," he said.

"Let's just say, if Italy wins, we'll be partying all night," he said ahead of the match.

After the game, Toronto Police warned residents that celebratory crowds had taken over the streets in the city's Little Italy and Corso Italia neighbourhoods.

The game was England's first time in the final of a major international competition since winning the 1966 World Cup, so supporters also lined up outside British pubs across Canada.

Pub Bishop & Bagg was in a somewhat unusual situation. The British-style pub is located near Montreal's Little Italy neighbourhood, so manager Megan Turcotte expected to see supporters of both teams.

"People are super excited, it brings everyone together," she said. "They drink a lot and they are loud. Some even sit in the streets and watch from afar on our televisions."

Roland Lamote of Montreal said he played soccer when he was younger, but now watching the games keeps him going.

He's lived in Little Italy his whole life, so rooting for Italy feels like supporting his home team, he said.

"With the Montreal Canadiens, I was so, so, so disappointed," Lamote said, referring to the National Hockey League team's recent defeat in the Stanley Cup final. "But at least we have this football game now."

Italy last won the European Championship in 1968. They reached the finals in 2000 and 2012 but lost to France and Spain respectively.

With England ahead 1-0 at the half, Italy supporter David Gelsomino -- "a fan as long as I've been seeing a soccer ball" -- seemed sanguine.

"We don't play old-school Italian, only-defence soccer anymore. We score now. So one goal doesn't get me down like it would have, say, in 2004," he said, adding a splash of prescience. "I believe that we've got some firepower. We can score multiple goals in the game."

By the time the whistle blew after the second half, the game was tied 1-1 as the players geared up for two 15-minute overtime rounds and the subsequent shootout, which saw tense viewers roar and gasp in the streets with each kick.

At Cafe Gelato, where bottles of Aperol punctuated the patio bar, hundreds of fans in blue soccer jerseys and the odd centurion costume gathered outside the venue on Montreal's Saint Laurent Boulevard to watch the showdown and chant "Italia" between bouts of nail biting.

Up the street, Ferdinando Anceschi, 57, parked in the heart of Petite Italie for a one-man tailgate in his flag-festooned pickup truck.

"May the best team win," he said, plugging in a screen on the truck bed a few hours before horn honks would echo down the boulevard.

"Hopefully Italy wins, it's going to be a big party here, everybody's going to be happy."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2021.

With files from Virginie Ann in Montreal.