England suffer more penalty shoot-out heartache

12th July 2021

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And so it came to pass England did not become European champions as the dreaded penalty shoot-out denied them once again. This time it wasn't Germany who so painfully ended England's dreams on the biggest stages in World Cup 1990 and Euro 96, but the Italians who technically were the best team at the tournament.

England lost but broke new ground, a first final in a major competition in 55 years should be celebrated. Knocking out Germany in a major competition for the first time since winning the World Cup in 1966 should also be celebrated. England conceded just 2 goals at Euro 2020 and only one from open play. Jordan Pickford in goal was Mr. Confidence himself, one would have thought the Everton player was the captain at times. He stayed relaxed throughout the tournament and made some world class saves, he also saved England twice in the final itself, in short he gave England hope.

The defence proved itself, only rarely caught out. It was only a few years ago that the media were quick to laugh at Pep Guardiola for signing Kyle Walker for £50m as he joined Manchester City, after this tournament that price feels like peanuts. Walker was a wall. Luke Shaw reserved some of his best football for this tournament also. Manager Gareth Southgate did chop and change the defence around but once Harry Maguire was declared fit it seemed a no brainer that the Manchester United talisman would make the team. Maguire also was a threat from set pieces. Leeds United will do well to keep Kalvin Phillips after his assured performances and while Southgate did chop and change Phillips remained a constant. The same could be said of Declan Rice, and both players at this time look contenders to be England regulars in their positions for many years to come.

Raheem Sterling was a revelation at times for the national side. We knew how good he was but after an average season for Manchester City the fact he was starting in the team was being questioned. But he proved his worth, with goals and darting runs and it was clear that the opposition were quite afraid of him. Fingers were pointed at Harry Kane early on but when he wasn't scoring he was helping to provide and always worked hard. Then in the knock outs of course he started to score- when it really mattered. True he had a quiet final dealt with by the efficient Italians, but he reminded us of what a gifted natural and fearless striker he is with a superbly well taken penalty in the shoot-out. There were throwbacks to be had in the attacking sense, a man that can run quick, the play maker that can change everything within seconds, a position that England have rarely had and the nation had three of them in Bayako Saka, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish. But all three got limited time. Foden missed the final due to a knock but his services looked frozen out well before, maybe Qatar 2022 will be more kind to him. Grealish played well once he came on against Germany but Southgate didn't give the Aston Villa and crowd favourite enough minutes. Saka had electrifying pace but isn't the finished article. All three are widely going to be exciting in the coming years.

As for the final, England caught Italy cold in the first two minutes of a game that could have been tipped to end 0-0 given each others defences. Luke Shaw the hero. But from then on in Italy started to dominate the game and it was clear as the encounter went on that England had not faced this level of quality in the competition- though Germany had hinted at it but were missing a quality striker. Italy had one in Federico Chiesa who was simply sublime. Italy equalised and England did well to hold on and even had some chances of their own. For England the result will be gutting given how close they came to holding the famed trophy. Perhaps Southgate made one glaring error with the order of penalty takers. Bringing on Marcus Rashford just so he could take a penalty felt very much like American football. And poor Saka only 19 and with the weight of 55 years of failings on his shoulders, that just seemed a bit much especially against a superb goalkeeper in Donnarumma. But England have to be proud, a semi-final in the last World Cup and a final at the Euro's, this England team under Southgate is heading in the right direction. And as for Southgate one really does have to feel for him. It was at this very stadium 25 years ago that his penalty miss cost England a chance to reach the final. He would have felt the pain of Saka, but the overall gut wrenching pain of not winning a tournament with the opportunity right there will feel devastating. Southgate comes across as a wonderful human being and certainly the best England manager since Terry Venables, he has confirmed that he will lead England to another World Cup and this will be excellent news for every England fan.

Apart from the Euro's taking place in South America the Copa America was also held and Argentina beat Brazil in a mouth watering fixture that ended up being quite a dull and tense affair as Argentina won 1-0. It was significant though as that was Argentina's first major trophy in 28 years and of course that means that Lionel Messi has finally stepped out of the shadow of 'not winning anything at international level'. It was a milestone of sorts.

Now the attention will turn to transfers and the new season ahead in the coming weeks, and the new Premier League season starts in just a month.

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