There is an inevitability about Jorginho and penalties. He approaches the ball in a gentle trot. Halfway there, he performs a little hop, a brief stutter designed to entice the goalkeeper into shifting his feet. That almost imperceptible movement, that slight twitch, is all Jorginho needs. That is the point when he knows which side of the net will prove to be out of reach for the goalkeeper.
From there, it is simple. It looks that way, certainly, even under all the pressure of Tuesday’s Euro 2020 semifinal: a single strike of the ball, after two hours of sweat and thunder and tension, to send his team, his country, into the final. Except he does not strike it. He addresses it. He steers it. He caresses it. It is the same every time.
But just because you know something is coming does not mean you can do anything about it.
Italy have not played to the stereotype these past three weeks. They arrived at Euro 2020 in a curious position, unbeaten in 27 games, a run stretching back a couple of years, but not among the favourites.
France, England, Portugal and Belgium were all under considerably more pressure. Whatever happened, Roberto Mancini, Italy’s coach, vowed that it would be “fun.”
He was as good as his word, for those first forays at least.
Turkey, Switzerland and Wales were swept aside, imperiously, on home territory in Rome. Austria was, eventually, overpowered in the round of 16. A brilliant spell of 15 or 20 minutes took Mancini’s team past Belgium, officially ranked as the world’s best side.
This was Italy stripped of the stress of expectation, and imbued with freedom. But it was not that sense of adventure, that freshly inculcated and deliberately nurtured spirit of gioia di vivere, that allowed Italy to take the final step.
Spain, even an iteration that remains a work in progress, was always likely to require a display of what might diplomatically be called more traditional Italian virtues: obduracy and indomitability, organization and guile.
It may yet rank as Mancini’s greatest achievement, in his three years in charge of his national side, that he has managed to retain those traits while reducing Italy’s reliance on them.
Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci still greet blocked shots and pickpocket interceptions with the same innocent, unalloyed delight that they might have celebrated a well-orchestrated offside trap as children.
Where Mancini has triumphed is he has made that Italy’s option of last resort, rather than its whole strategy. His team would prefer to beat its opponents.
But if that is not possible, then it is more than happy to live up to Johan Cruyff’s aphorism and make sure it does not lose to them.
And so, while this was not the sort of performance with which the new Italy might stir the soul, it was one of which the old Italy would be rightly proud.