IAN LADYMAN: This heartbreaking defeat will really hurt… but England have buried the dismal misery of half a century and paved the way for a future that glitters with possibility
- Raheem Sterling was thwarted by Giorgio Chiellini late on in extra time
- He smiled and his reaction summed up the ebb and flow of incredible game
- To fall at the last can feel even more painful than never having come this far at all
- But England have paved the way for a brighter future with this team
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
Seven minutes in to extra time at Wembley, Raheem Sterling sped ominously down the left only to be stopped by a flying lunge by the Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. As he scrambled to his feet, fuelled no doubt by the adrenaline of such a titanic Wembley battle, Sterling wore a grin so wide it almost lit up the national stadium.
It was a smile that summed up the ebb and flow of this incredible night – a smile that knew nothing of the pain that was to come – but that also said everything about the journey Sterling and his team-mates have made through this tournament.
That England did not win this final should take nothing from that. The FA should take that image and stick it on posters, billboards and websites. For this is what it can mean to play for England again. This is how it can feel to watch them.
Giorgio Chiellini stopped Raheem Sterling with a lunging challenge in extra time
England will be shattered by the defeat on penalties but the future is bright
England lost this final and that matters hugely, of course it does. As manager Gareth Southgate said beforehand, the difference between silver and gold is cavernous.
So this really hurt and will do so for a good while. To come close and fall at the last can feel more painful than never having come so far at all.
But few who have watched this team over the last four sunlit weeks will not have emerged from it feeling the better for the experience.
In defeat here, England once again showed the best of themselves. This was knock out football in its most raw form and Southgate’s team were ambitious, confident and brave for much of it. The problem with tournament football, though, is that there are other good teams too and here England simply ran in to the best of the lot.
None of that should detract from what England have achieved. Not only have they buried the dismal misery of half a century without a final, they paved a way for a brighter future, one that now feels as though it glitters with possibility for every young footballer in the land.
Southgate has emerged as a coach with quiet but tangible gifts and his team has become a mirror image of that. His players now possess his gentle confidence, his ability to express himself and the courage to grow and adapt. Some have enjoyed more significant roles than others over the last month but all will move forwards as better players and people. Southgate has that touch.
Redemption stories are written right through this team. Sterling, Kyle Walker, Jordan Pickford, Luke Shaw. All have grown as men.
Shaw’s superb early goal was indicative of that. If there was one word required to adequately describe it then it would be ‘purpose’. It was there in Harry Kane’s cross field pass to Kieran Trippier, there in Walker’s decoy overlap and in the ground made up by Shaw to offer an option at the far post.
When the ball flew past Gianluigi Donnarumma not a soul in an ecstatic Wembley would have been the least bit surprised. The famous old place simply felt as though it may burst.
After the 2018 World Cup in Russia, Southgate found that people would approach him in the street to thank him for providing a team that not only won games but that they could relate to. Women and people of colour were among those who shook his hand.
This is a likeable and human England team. There is no doubt about it. They are elite sportsmen and have a competitive edge but there is also a commonality and decency about them to which some section of England’s support really must now try and respond.
Bukayo Saka had to be consoled by his team-mates and this was a cruel twist for him
This team probably deserve better than a minority who think it’s okay to kick over barriers, storm turnstiles, terrify stewards and send young children home from the biggest night of their lives in tears.
What happened outside and inside Wembley on Sunday night must not be forgotten just because England were in a final. There is a grimness at the core of our sport that must be addressed yet again.
On the field, though, England were magnificent for the large part. The great Italian defender Chiellini walked in to Wembley with a big smile of his own but after half an hour looked like he had been in a washing machine, bullied by Kane and terrorised for pace by Sterling.
On the touchline Italy coach Roberto Mancini resembled a frustrated traffic cop at a Milan interchange. Initially all the Ferraris were wearing white but the way Italy grew in to this game after such a humbling start was as impressive as anything they had hitherto provided in this tournament.
England are a team to be proud of again and have given the nation something to cherish
It became clear over time that this would be a final that was to be hard won. The to and fro was captivating and once again, lessons were learned by England in this game that will serve them well. We may, for example, question Southgate’s choice of penalty takers.
But, still, we will not forget what these players have done. It has been a golden summer, played out against a background of such uncertainty across Europe and at the end of it all we can conclude that Southgate and his men have taught us something.
There was a myth that people had lost interest in the England team. But it seems they hadn’t. They were just waiting for a team like this one.
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