England’s penalty-takers were brave — Euro 2020 final pain will build their steel

“No, not him.” My eyes lowered, my heart sunk. I knew exactly what was coming regardless of how the shootout shaped up and just like clockwork…

“Honestly though Marcus Rashford, penalties not politics from now on, aye?,” came the tweet from a ‘Conservative commentator.’

Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke sent what she thought to be a supremely witty message to a WhatsApp group.

“They lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics?”

A 23-year-old had just missed a penalty for his country in its first major final in 55 years having come on solely for that kick, and his persistence in ensuring that children do not go hungry in England was levelled against him.


When did preventing kids from starving become political anyway?

That was, sadly yet very unsurprisingly, not the worst reaction. Racist abuse swamped his social profiles the second after he rolled his effort against the outside of the opposite post to Gianluigi Donnarumma’s eventual movement.

“No, not him too.” My eyes lowered, my heart sunk. I knew exactly what was coming regardless of how the shootout shaped up and just like clockwork…

Donnarumma saved from Jadon Sancho and… fresh comment hell.

When England’s fifth taker stepped up, it was hard to believe his identity and equally so to watch his effort.

“No, especially not him.” My eyes lowered, my heart sunk. I knew exactly what was coming and just like clockwork…

Bukayo Saka had been one of England’s best players at the tournament, bottled sunshine in the form of a footballer, and a standout emerging talent across the board, but you knew none of that mattered.

Once he missed, as with Rashford and Sancho, he was despicably reduced to just colour of his skin by too many. On Instagram, the teenager was urged to “go back to Nigeria” and “get out my country”.

England, as ever, needed scapegoats and well, given the railing against taking a knee, the trio could not have fitted the profile better.

The “millionaire woke babies” had their comeuppance.

For everything Gareth Southgate’s side had given the country, first in 2018 and now – in the midst of the effects of Brexit and the awful handling of coronavirus while the former health secretary was getting his freak on – this felt a totally cruel conclusion.

Bukayo Saka missed the crucial spot kick

Not the shootout defeat, but the dangerous scenes of disorder that marred the game and the racist response that was affixed to the result.

In the dead of dejection, a dressing room insanely hurting, Southgate had to console those who missed – already wishing they could disappear – from the worst online abuse.

“It’s just not what we stand for,” the manager said on Monday morning.

“We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody – and so that togetherness has to continue.

“I think the players […] have had a positive effect on lots of areas of society, but we can’t affect everything. Other people have responsibilities in those areas and we’ve all got to work collectively to constantly improve those things.”

The FA, dealing with the aftermath of multiple and major security breaches, had to release a statement.

The Metropolitan Police, who had 19 officers suffer injuries in clashes with disorderly fans, have opened an investigation.

To vilify Rashford, Sancho and Saka is utterly moronic, but also a sign of low to no football intelligence. England may have officially lost on penalties, but the match was surrendered when they ceased attacking ambition, rolling out the welcome mat for Italy’s brilliance and resilience.

They only had two shots on target, one of which was Luke Shaw’s goal two minutes in, the fastest ever in a Euros final. The other was a John Stones header that came with 64 minutes on the clock, just before Leonardo Bonucci equalised.

Italy had 19 total efforts to six, 10 shots from inside the box to four. Despite being injury-afflicted, having heavy legs and a bench that could not rival England’s offensive depth, they owned the ball, with 66 per cent possession and shaped the largest stretches of the game.

The encounter belonged to Italy well before that was confirmed from 12 yards.

Rashford, Sancho and Saka are brave, gifted, young men and this experience will build their steel.

They will be fine, they will thrive. For those who indulged in criminal behaviour at Wembley and around London on Sunday, plus those who communicate in monkey, gorilla and banana emojis in addition to other racist slurs, the future is contrastingly pathetic.

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