Imagine a marathon runner having performed more than ably to conquer every lap only to squander his winning run metres away from the finish line. Well, when one thinks about this marathon runner, a certain home team surely springs to mind who through the tournament were so focused to win their maiden European title and a major trophy after a long wait of 55 years.
England vehemently conquered every opposition to reach the final, winning games enroute only to surrender in an all or nothing battle courtesy another penalty shootout debacle. The result, the banner which motivated every English fan in It’s coming home made a 180 shift albeit still rhyming in It’s coming Rome.
Wembley witnessed the Azzurri cheer as England were conquered 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 outcome in regular time to give Italy their second Euro Title after a gap of 53 years dating back to their 1968 conquest against Yugoslavia, the longest gap for any European team beating Spain’s 44 year wait from 1964 to 2008.
With this trophy, the Azzurri mounted their silverware to six major titles (4 World Cups and 2 Euros) a close second to the once mighty powerhouse of Europe in Germany who sit on seven.
So, as The Three Lions suffered another heart break in a major tournament at a point where they were so close yet so far, lets dissect this final which saw the Axis forces reign supreme over the Great Alliance possibly bringing a smile on the face of the late Benito Mussolini:
The Azzurri were Shawbertoed early
Gareth Southgate made one change in the starting XI from the Danish semi-final hurrah, with a defensive option Kieran Trippier coming in for a more attack minded Bukayo Saka in a 3-4-2-1 formation. The task was simple score early and defend with all your might and the elusive Euro title comes home.
Well, the strategy worked wonders as only in the 2nd minute England were 1-0 up thanks to a superb strike from winger Luke Shaw after he made no mistake in converting from a single touch to beat keeper Donnarumma from a Trippier cross.
England were up and running early, I was ecstatic and the Manchester United man had his maiden goal in a move which reminded me like many others of a Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos, with the way this winger scored for the Seleção.
As time moved on, Italy, the team who played the first game of this competition and now were playing the final, slowly started finding their feet as they steadily built attacks on the English goal. Their best chance would come in the 35th minute through arguably their most attacking threat, Chiesa who hit the ball inches wide of the post.
The Three Lions knew they were in a contest and the going would be anything but easy!
The Azzurri had another shot on target in stoppage time of the first 45 as Immobile’s strike was blocked by John Stones and Verrati’s rebound effort was comfortably pouched by keeper, Jordan Pickford.
With no further twists, England were lucky to maintain their lead as the players walked into the tunnel at the stroke of half-time.
Leonardo Bonucci brings his team back into the contest
England started the second half brightly as Sterling made a fine run into the Italian D to be brought down by captain Chiellini and Bonucci which showed a clear penalty albeit the referee decided otherwise.
The Three Lions were a tad unlucky with the decision as the Azzurri continued to mount their offensive onslaught with Chiesa creating another opportunity that was ably stopped by Pickford.
Italy with their relentless attacking threats, would finally get the equaliser through their legendary defender Bonucci who slotted the ball in after Pickford did well to keep Verratti’s header out from an Immobile corner.
The game had come to life if you were an Italian supporter and the majority in attendance at Wembley were certainly deflated with this occurrence.
England much like their supporters were on the back-foot as time was called on the 90 and extra time of 15 minutes each beckoned.
The contest would fail to produce a result in the 30 minutes that followed as Italy continued to attack albeit the goal was not to be found.
Next up a word that would particularly still not sit well with England was to see the light of day. Penalties!
England squander yet another major penalty shootout
As the shootout began, my hopes started to soar as Jordan Pickford stopped Italy’s second strike and England had converted from their first two.
Little did I know then that our next three would go so horribly south as Rashford, Sancho and Saka all missed despite Pickford still managing to keep England in the hunt by keeping a Jorginho effort out.
The result, Italy had won another major tournament as England were yet again beaten 3-2 on penalties.
The Three Lions had squandered another penalty shootout taking their tally to all of 22 percent success rate with only two hurrahs from nine attempts. Yes, some would have hoped The Three Lions could have conquered the Azzurri in this shootout as their last successive penalty triumphs had come as recently as the 2018 World Cup pre-quarter win over Columbia and The Nations League third place win over Switzerland albeit not to be.
As the contest finally ended and the Italian captain Chiellini hoisted the trophy, to say I was heartbroken was as true as England’s insatiable need to defend after going 1-0 up early in this contest.
Having said this, one cannot take anything away from The Three Lions as their valiant roar was worth every praise to reach their maiden European final.
Maybe this failure was a sign that they are destined to shine even brighter come next year on the grandest stage of world football at Qatar 2022. In exactly a year and a half would I be writing a piece on England winning the ultimate prize in football? Only time will tell.
Until then I still continue to believe that impossible is not a word in the English footballing dictionary!
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