England’s journey at Euro 2020 came to an end last Sunday as the Three Lions 55-year wait for a trophy was torn away from them from the penalty spot. So near, and yet 55 years and counting. Gareth Southgate proved throughout the tournament why he’s the man for the job and seemed to have sprung a tactical masterclass.
England’s heart was ripped out and showcased in front of the globe after Bukayo Saka’s penalty limply was palmed away by Gianluigi Donnarumma. It was a moment of raw vulnerability and a very familiar feeling over the past five decades for England fans.
England’s flawless game plan was wrestled away by the sheer persistence of Roberto Mancini, who maintained a healthy flow of subs until he got the right dynamic to break the hosts. And at the end, the age-old hoodoo of penalties vanquished England again. Just how did England allow themselves to lose from a winning position and what have we learnt as football fails to come home again?
Reverted to Penalty Woes
England flexed their muscles coming into the European Championships as the emerged favourites in the sports spread betting markets. Understandably, the national team had a frightening amount of pressure on their shoulders. England demonstrated unity and a sense of togetherness we haven’t seen before.
England was meant to have buried their penalty curse. But this performance from the spot-kick was a really poor penalty shoot-out from the Three Lions. What looked like a piece of black magic of holding back key penalty takers until the last minute of extra time will undoubtedly be questioned, after Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford both missed their kicks.
Next up was Bukayo Saka, who at just 19 was drafted in to take the decisive kick and ultimately fell short. The penalty order Southgate crowbarred in will be debated for years.
Harry Kane and Harry Maguire rifled home their penalties and Jordan Pickford failed to disappoint, his save under immense pressure from Jorginho was excellent, refusing to be intimidated by the Chelsea player’s skip-and-wait strategy. But for England, it’s back to the drawing board.
Under the ex-England international, England has generally rallied and cleared all psychological barriers and banished history to the past. But this failure was another poisoned dagger to the heart.
From Domination to Defeat
What will infest fan and pundits’ minds will be how England, who looked utterly dominant in the first half, physically stronger, mentally stronger and tactically sharper than Italy, allowed Mancini to peg the team back and exercise Azzurri dominance to eventually score.
Clearly, nobody can expect a side to dominate the entire game against a battle-hardened Italy outfit. Yet it felt like England invited Italy to level the game. The first half was arguably Gareth Southgate’s best time in a tactical area.
The 50-year-old manager reverted back to 3-4-3, he rocked Italy, who were left scratching their heads for 20 minutes. The only regret will be England not adding to their Luke Shaw opener inside two minutes. Italy’s full back’s weak underbelly was exposed as Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw continued to terrorise the right and left.
England were exceptional in spreading the ball wide and quickly and with pinpoint accuracy. It disturbed the Italian’s equilibrium, who were chasing shadows effectively.
Mancini Orchestrated Masterclass
Southgate transparently triumphed in the first half, but Robert Mancini emphatically won the rest of the tactical battle. We began to see Emerson Palmieri and Giovanni Di Lorenzo making runs, Federico Chiesa and Lorenzo Insigne imprinted their mark making darting runs with veteran Chiellini beginning to ping those searching long balls.
It seemed Kane was unable to disrupt as he has the first half and Mancini knew he was holding all the cards. Suddenly Italy was carving out space and getting behind England. On 67 minutes the Bonucci goal sprouted. The Italian manager had got everything right.
Southgate Still Has Learnings to Take Away
Southgate is a refreshing change from the inept and gung-ho approach England have had in the past. Against Croatia in 2018, Southgate seemed shell-shocked. This time around, he made a quick change bringing on Bukayo Saka and reverting back to 4-3-3. It made a huge splash but not big enough to nullify a venerable Italy.
England’s game has been based on patient possession which has allowed wingers the freedom to get runs in. But going into the final stages of the game, no England striker had had a shot on goal. It was a lacklustre end to normal time for England.
Mancini was very bold with his changes and it paid off. He changed the entire front five, allowing them to maintain a stranglehold on pressing. England tired and became sloppy with the ball.
In short, Italy controlled the game from after the first half and crumbled the Three Lions to the floor. The Azzurri played at the tempo they set. What will live long in the England’s team memories is that they are better than this. They had Italy on the ropes and couldn’t finish the job. England have been superb at these Euros, as has the gaffer Southgate. Falling short of the fairy tale is a tough pill to swallow, but their journey still needs an ending.