England’s penalty shootout loss to Italy may have been heart-breaking but it’s not all doom and gloom… with young stars desperate to impress, a classy statesman in Gareth Southgate and a team to be proud of, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic
- England felt heartbreak in the Euro 2020 final after losing to Italy on penalties
- The cruel manner of the defeat means the Three Lions’ trophy drought goes on
- But there are several reasons for the team and supporters to remain optimistic
- A young team eager to step up sets England in fine stead for the next World Cup
- Gareth Southgate has performed his duties superbly during a difficult summer
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
England and disappointment at tournaments usually go hand in hand, but this latest defeat is an entirely different feeling altogether. The doom and gloom has set in, of course, but ultimately this squad has plenty to be proud of.
For a little while at least, it really did look like football was ‘coming home’. The Three Lions were pulsating for much of the first half, having taken the lead early on, but Italy grew into the clash and wrestled back control.
From there, it was always an uphill struggle. And in the cruellest twist of fate imaginable, a penalty shootout proved to be England’s downfall once again. For now, the inquest has started – although it will show many reasons to be optimistic.
With a team to be proud of, a superb leader in Gareth Southgate and a nation back in love with the international game, the World Cup in Qatar can’t come quick enough.
England took the lead through Luke Shaw (R) but went on to lose the Euro 2020 final to Italy
Gareth Southgate has continued his fine job in charge and there are reasons to be optimistic
PROMISING YOUNG TEAM
A quick glance through England’s current crop hints at a bright future. There is a rich blend of experience and youthful exuberance, and many of these players are beginning to blossom at just the right time.
All of the midfielders selected for the Euro 2020 squad are aged 25 or under, with the exception of Jordan Henderson, and some of the stars largely on the fringes are also in their early 20s.
For the World Cup, expect the likes of Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Declan Rice to continue playing a key role in ending that long wait for a trophy.
Many of these starlets have stepped up spectacularly when needed, and Saka showed incredible courage after taking the decisive fifth penalty in the shootout. He may have missed, but it revealed all about his character.
Southgate also has a host of talented names from the Three Lions’ youth squads to consider too, but he will take heart in knowing that his first team – and the number of supremely talented wonderkids – have many more tournaments in them.
Bukayo Saka is just one of a host of young starlets that will carry England’s torch in the future
Declan Rice (L) and Phil Foden (R) are already standout performers despite their tender ages
A NEW FEELING OF TOGETHERNESS
This enterprising England team has undoubtedly won back the hearts and minds of the nation, but it is the unity inside the squad itself that has shone the brightest throughout this tournament.
Southgate has been able to cultivate a togetherness inside his camp, and his players have been there, unfalteringly, to pick each other up during the most crushing of lows. It’s been a truly touching sight.
The seconds after the defeat against Italy was sealed demonstrated all you needed to know. Saka, having seen his spot-kick saved, was clearly distraught, and Kalvin Phillips raced through the celebrations to console him.
Those pictures are always some of the hardest to digest in football, but it was heartening to see Southgate and many of his stars grieving as one. This unbreakable team bond will be crucial for a push for the biggest gong of them all.
And as a result of the willingness to take a bullet for each other, the players have rallied the whole of the country behind them. There is disappointment, yes, but it is difficult to remember the last time the support for the team was this strong.
The Three Lions’ superb form at the tournament has been built off their feeling of togetherness
Even after their heart-breaking defeat, England rallied together and will come back stronger
It is no secret that Southgate lamented the fact he was unable to switch up his system in the semi-final defeat by Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, but this conundrum is mercifully no longer an issue for him.
Since then, England have been able to adopt a range of formations and then adapt to them well. This competition has shown this, with a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-4-3 both pulled out of the hat on various occasions, depending on the opponent.
It was the latter that was used against Italy, and for the first half it worked magnificently. The use of the width of the pitch was textbook, and the Azzurri were unable to cope with Kieran Trippier and Luke Shaw’s runs.
Those quick balls aimed into the channels were devastating, and it took Italy a while to find a foothold in the game. When they did, the Three Lions just weren’t enterprising enough, but there is plenty of food for thought.
Southgate now has the players to seamlessly alter his formations, and there will be no repeat of the consistent five-at-the-back line-ups from three years ago. Next time around, England will be able to keep their opponents guessing.
Southgate has used a variety of formations this summer in a promising sign for the World Cup
Southgate has acted as far more than just the manager this summer. He has conducted his duties superbly, and managed to capture the mood of an expectant country in everything he did.
The final outcome is a shame, but the man at the helm of it all can, and should, hold his head high. His purview has fallen beyond simply ordering his players around, and instead he has immersed himself in everything happening off the field.
From issues ranging to the taking of the knee before matches, to his players receiving disgusting abuse on social media for one mis-kick, Southgate has struck the right tone every time, almost like the perfect father figure.
He has also been the coolest man in the ground despite the rollercoaster of emotions thrown up by football at this level, and is a wise old head for the more inexperienced players in his squad to turn to for advice.
There will be questions about some of his tactical decisions at Euro 2020, such is the cutthroat nature of this sport. But what is absolutely not in question is the way he has gone about his role with impeccable class and dignity.
Despite taking up more than just the average duties of a manager, Southgate has been classy
A REPUTATION RESTORED
So close, yet so far. To fall short of the finish line in that manner is agonising, and there were some supporters left wondering when England would next win a trophy. Those 55 years of hurt, for now, roll on.
But the disappointment shouldn’t mask the clear progress under Southgate. The bare statistics don’t lie, with a fourth placed finish at the World Cup followed by a defeat in the final this time.
There have also been promising dabbles with the Nations League, and the Three Lions’ record when qualifying for tournaments has been spotless. Southgate’s record makes him the most important England boss since Sir Alf Ramsey.
Combine this with a team fully unified, with that dream blend of starlets and more seasoned veterans, and England look a real force again. The mediocrity that can be traced back for many, many years has vanished.
A good crack at winning the next World Cup would reinforce this and, whether or not Southgate chooses to remain, the foundations are in place to finally bring an end to this trophy drought. Surely it’s just a matter of time now.
England have proved that their era of disappointment may be over after starring at Euro 2020
The atmosphere at Wembley in the game was electric with supporters and their team united
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