Italy 1-1 England
(After extra-time – Italy won 3-2 on penalties)
If you are amongst the ‘I told you so’ brigade, then you might want to scroll on by.
If you still; don’t get Raheem Sterling – Think Harry Kane is overrated – Insist that Jordan Pickford is an accident waiting to happen; Well, this summary simply isn’t for you.
And if, even with all the evidence placed before you over the past four weeks, you think Gareth Southgate isn’t the man for the job… Well, I’d stick to the golf course if I were you.
Sure, after 20,071 days – 2,867 weeks or simply 54 years, 11 months and twelve days, we finally thought that football was coming home. For now, it remains just out of reach, but boy, was it close!
Firstly, let us congratulate the winners. Roberto Mancini has overseen a 34-match unbeaten run. That is title form in any competition – England ran them to the wire. The spectre of penalties returning to haunt Wembley, just as it did for Southgate 25 years ago.
As for the match itself, an explosive start from the Three Lions. Kane’s vision and Kieran Trippier’s pinpoint centre as the home side countered. Left-sided defender, Luke Shaw – loathed by Mourinho – loved by Southgate – arrived and finished like a seasoned striker. England ahead inside two minutes, sparking wild scenes of euphoria. We could taste it – almost touch it – it was amazing!
But as I have mentioned before, class is permanent. The Italian revival under Mancini’s tenure can not be disregarded. The Azzurri got off the canvus. The proverbial Rolls Royce of the tournament began to slip through the gears. England dug deep, but Leonardo Bonucci was on hand to pounce after Pickford had turned Marco Verratti’s header onto an upright. A test of character loomed overhead. Southgate’s charges provided with tough physical, mental and technical tests and by a team vastly more experienced. But they refused to buckle.
Extra-time came and went. Penalties – here we are again, my old friend. Italy, inspired by their giant goalkeeper, Gianluigi Donnarumma, prevailed. I’m not even going to mention England’s three unfortunates from the spot. Football writers far better than me, scribing for much bigger publications will no doubt have their say. You and I both know who they are, but I believe their dignity deserves a little more respect. They stepped up. The country must now aid their growth and revival, both as footballers and people.
And so it was Italy’s name engraved on the European Championship trophy. England’s wait edges further towards six decades. Disappointment in a major football tournament is nothing new, but I’ll leave you with this.
Firstly, I’m not going to put the players on a pedestal with the likes of the NHS. After all, every footballer to pull on an England shirt this past month will agree that this past sixteen months, they have been this country’s ultimate heroes.
Nevertheless, at a time when the country desperately needed a lift, it was Southgate, his young, exciting England team and football in general that provided it. Several political pawns tried and spectacularly failed to ride this particular applecart. We had the stuffing knocked out of us for more than a year. Southgate gave us hope – Kane, Sterling, Rice, Pickford and co helped us return from the wilderness and for that and the memories of this summer, I, for one, will be eternally grateful.
It is open to debate as to whether football will ever really come home. But this group have opened the front door and appear ready to receive it. Qatar 2022? Well, we can all dream, can’t we?
England: Pickford; Walker (Sancho 120′), Stones, Maguire; Trippier (Saka 71′), Phillips, Rice (Henderson 74′, (Rashford 120′), Shaw; Mount (Grealish 99′), Kane, Sterling Subs not used: Ramsdale, Johnstone, Mings, Coady, Sancho, Calvert-Lewin, James, Bellingham
Italy: Donnarumma; Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson (Florenzi 118′); Barella (Cristante 54′), Jorginho, Verratti (Locatelli 96′); Chiesa (Bernadeschi 86′), Immobile (Berardi 55′), Insigne (Berardi 90′) Subs not used: Sirigu, Meret, Pessina, Acerbi, Bastoni, Toloi
Referee: Björn Kuipers (NED)
Assistant Referees: Sander van Roekel (NED) , Erwin Zeinstra (NED)
Video Assistant Referee: Bastian Dankert (GER)
Fourth Official: Carlos del Cerro Grande (ESP)
Assistant Video Assistant Referee: Pol van Boekel (NED), Marco Fritz (GER), Christian Gittelmann (GER)
Reserve Official: Juan Carlos Yuste (ESP)
UEFA Referee observer: Hugh Dallas (SCO)