Twenty-five years after his missed penalty cost England a place in the 1996 Euros final, England manager Gareth Southgate was crushed again as the Three Lions missed three spot kicks to lose the final to Italy at Wembley in a shootout after a 1-1 draw after extra time.
Italy giant goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma made saves from Jadon Sancho and, decisively, Arsenal teenager Bukayo Saka while Marcus Rashford stuck a post. But the attention turned to Southgate’s decision-making after he brought Sancho and Rashford on seconds before the end of 120 minutes specifically for penalties, and also sending up Saka for the decisive fifth kick.
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had saved twice in the shootout but Saka needed to convert England’s fifth kick to take the shootout to sudden death. His weak attempt was saved.
“What a situation for a teenager in Saka, as talented as he is, to be put in this position,” said former England and Arsenal striker Alan Smith on the match commentary.
“He’s only human. It’s nowhere near the corner. That’s pressure for you.”
Former Premier League player Michael Bridges, speaking on Optus Sport, said: “Football is a cruel game at times.
“The two substitutes that Southgate put on a minute before the shootout one Sancho, one Rashford have missed. That could have been a stroke of of genius but it didn’t turn out that way.
“I feel for the 19 year old Saka. He’s had an unbelievable tournament, and an unbelievable season for Arsenal but to put that much presson him to take the fifth penalty when I see a man in Grealish [there], I was very surprised he was given the role and the responsibility to take that penalty as the fifth because it can be such a decisive one.
“I hope it doesn’t affect that kid too much. But if anyone can console him it will be Southgate.
“But you have to credit Italy. They went 1-0 behind at Wembley in front of 65,000 people, they found a way to get level and then they dominated the game by changing their tactics and players and won the penalty shootout.”
Outspoken former Manchester United and Ireland hardman Roy Keane was scathing of the failure of Grealish and Raheem Sterling to step up for the fifth kick, although it’s likely Southgate set the order.
“If you’re Sterling or Grealish you can not sit there and have a young kid walk up ahead of you,” Keane said on ITV. “You can’t sit there and see a young kid, 19, a child, walking up ahead of [you when you’ve] played a lot more games got a lot more experience, Sterling has won trophies.
“You’ve got to get in front of this young kid and say ‘listen, I’ll step up before you’.”
Grealish last took a penalty for Aston Villa two seasons ago and missed. Sterling, who had scored in a League Cup shootout for Manchester City against Chelsea at Wembley has missed his last three penalties.
Former England striker Alan Shearer, speaking on BBC Sport, said sending on Rashford and Sancho for penalties was also questionable.
“It’s a big ask to put two players on with a few minutes to go and ask them to take penalties,” said Shearer. “It’s big pressure when they’ve not kicked a ball. Mentally you have to get yourself right. You’ve not kicked a ball for a few hours.”
England’s shootout misery is nothing new. They have been successful in just two of their nine major tournament shootouts, a 22 per cent success rate that is the lowest ratio of any European nation to have been involved in three or more.
GIANLUIGI DONNARUMMA IS THE HERO!
Bukayo Saka’s penalty is saved. Italy are Champions.
Tears of joy from Roberto Mancini as the Azzurri are overcome with emotion.
— Optus Sport (@OptusSport) July 11, 2021
The title was Italy’s second at the Euros, after 1968, while England’s wait for a trophy stretches beyond 55 years.
It capped an incredible three years for former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, an emotional teary wreck after the match. He took over a broken Azzurri that had failed to even qualify for the 2018 World Cup three years ago.
“It means a lot because they’re proud of their country,” said former Socceroos striker John Aloisi on Optus Sport. “They’re passionate about their football and it hurt when they didn’t qualify for 2018.
“They’ve got a belief in what they’re doing under Mancinin and it’s been there for a long time now, three years and 34 games they haven’t lost.
“You could see even when they went 1-0 down, and they were getting dominated those first 20-30 minutes they clawed their way back into the game.
“They just started to get back in before halftime and after halftime they dominated those 45 minutes and they deserved to get back in. It’s all about their belief in the system, how Mancini wants them to play and each other.”
England made a flying start, with the fastest ever goal at Euros final, and looked strong in the opening stages but Italy equalised in the second half after seizing back the initiative.
Southgate changed his formation to a 3-4-3, and his wingbacks Kieran Trippier and Shaw combined brilliantly.
Trippier, given too much time on the right, swung his ball to the far post where Manchester United’s Shaw neatly scored off the inside of the post for his first ever England goal.
England took confidence from the strike and were able to keep the Italians at bay for the next half hour before the visitors began to assert control.
England were unable to create enough chances, while the excellent Juventus winger Federico Chiesa drove Italy forward.
He fizzed one wide and then brought a superb save out of Pickford, but the equaliser came on 67 minutes through veteran defender Leonardo Bonucci, heading home when England failed to clear their lines at a corner.
Raheem Sterling, who won the penalty that proved decisive in the semi-final win over Denmark, tumbled looking for another spot kick but was denied.
Chiesa, the player of the match for the opening 90, was forced off injured on 84 minutes and neither side pushed for a winner in extra time, with penalties seemingly inevitable.
England captain Harry Kane was integral to the first goal, coming deep and releasing Trippier, but he was otherwise superbly marshalled by Bonucci and his defensive partner Giorgio Chiellini, the veterans showing incredible stamina to go the distance after also seeing Italy through a penalty shootout in the semis against Spain.
Kane didn’t have one touch in the Italy 18 yard box, a staggering sign of just how he struggled to get into the game.
“I couldn’t have given more,” said Kane. “The boys couldn’t have given more. Penalties is the worst feeling in the world when you lose.
“It wasn’t our night but it’s been a fantastic tournament and we should hold our heads high. We’re all winners and want to win so it will probably hurt for a while and it will hurt for the rest of our careers, but that’s football.”
Kane said England dropped too deep after taking the early lead.
“They had a lot of the ball,” said Kane. “We looked fairly in control, they didn’t create too many chances.
“They got their breakthrough from the set piece and after that was 50:50. In extra time we grew into the game and had a few had chances. Penalties is penalties. We went through a process. The boys did everything they could, it just wasn’t our night.”
Former England player Gary Neville said it was the team’s failure to cope with normal time that made the difference, rather than the shootout agony.
“England teams, when they’ve historically gone out of tournaments on penalties, have sat back towards their own goal, shrunk back, got very deep and not been composed and not had the guts to play out and play through,” said Neville on ITV.
“This team have tried to change that but they didn’t get on the ball, they didn’t keep their composure, didn’t get into their shape attacking wise to keep possession.
“That has been the Achilles heel of England teams tournament after tournament and that’s the last bit of the jigsaw they have to get right.”