The feeling of losing a final on penalties is very sombre. People will react emotionally differently, for me I have barely shown an emotion since Donnarumma saved Saka’s penalty. I personally thought the tournament had its ups and downs as an England fan. I
am very proud of the efforts of every single player who put on the shirt this summer.
The group stages return of 7 points out of 9 sounds good but I think we played very poorly for long spells of all 3 matches. The Germany match was nip and tuck, with us ending the game very strongly and deserving to go through. Beating Germany felt like a major
stepping stone for us. But in reality, this was a very badly managed side who recently lost
6-0 to Spain and 2-1 at home to North Macedonia. And they were lucky to scrape through to the last 16 with a late equaliser against Hungary.
The quarter-final and semi-final were very good performances from England. Denmark looked exhausted at the end of the game and I think their fatigue is the reason we got away with Southgate’s poor game management. He waited far too long to make his substitutions but because we won it was not a talking point.
For the final when I saw the line up I was worried, but early on it looked like a stroke of genius. Trippier assisted Shaw for the opener and causing havoc down the right. Sadly this only lasted for about 20-25 minutes. Beyond that Italy got a grip on the game and they had complete control until they equalised in the 67th minute. I felt like I was watching a rerun of the Croatia game that has been so keenly pointed out as a learning experience.
The second half until they equalised was abysmal we could not keep the ball and often aimlessly hoofed it upfield. We waited until they scored to change anything and by then the damage was done. This is exactly what happened against Croatia 3 years ago, so have we really learnt from it? We were much more solid after this which did not happen in Russia admittedly. Perisic almost immediately hitting the post after Croatia had deservedly equalised on that occasion.
During extra time we seemed to have regrouped and in the second half were probably the stronger side so there are some improvements. I just can’t help but feel we have wasted an opportunity and there are too many what-ifs based on our tactics. I am a big fan of
Mason Mount and think he has been excellent for Chelsea. His work rate in this tournament was phenomenal but he did not have a big impact on many games. For Mount though, I don’t know what can be expected from a central player being on the left wing most of the night.
Italy had been getting on top just before halftime and we should have made a change then. To not do so around the hour mark when nothing had changed, I find completely bewildering.
There has been an outcry from fans for Grealish to play more and once again he made a
huge difference when he arrived on the pitch. If he had come on earlier, he would have undoubtedly won some (admittedly soft) free-kicks and slowed the Italians momentum. I
have seen some suggestions that Grealish’s role is better as a super-sub I believe this to be complete nonsense.
I have a lot of opinions on the penalty shootout and where it all went wrong. Rashford and Sancho coming on in the 119th minute to both miss is a really bad look. I want to make it clear I do not blame either player, or Saka. I have the utmost respect that they were willing to step up. The Manchester United men have barely played all tournament and won’t have had the highest confidence due to that. A similar thing could be said about Dominic Calvin Lewin who has previously scored penalties (twice) for the three lions and had he been utilised more in the tournament would have been an option.
The most baffling thing of all which I am amazed has not been spoken about is his decision to put Rashford RB for the closing stages. This is obviously odd and I presumed at the time that this meant sterling must be taking a penalty. With Sterling remaining on and not take a penalty seems to negate the need for playing a forward as a full back. Rashford did make a good tackle but nothing came from this odd decision.
I empathise with all three players who stepped up and missed it must be an awful feeling. Not one of them let us down though anybody can miss a penalty and under that pressure it is very understandable. Grealish has since made it clear he wanted to take a penalty and in hindsight, it looks like he should have.
I thought Jordan Pickford would take one, despite the loss, I think he was the man of the match in the final. His save from Verratti’s header was absolutely outstanding as well as his good save from Chiesa. Pickford emerged as a hero for me with his outstanding game and 2 penalty saves and I think the story was set for him to bury a penalty as he did in the Nations league playoff against Switzerland.
This point is a major nitpick I am aware of that but was something else I had thought about. When Trent Alexander Arnold pulled out of the squad, Southgate selected Ben White as his final member. At this point, I felt sorry for James Ward Prowse and having seen how the tournament unfolded wonder if this decision had an impact.
Coady played no minutes in the tournament, let alone Ben White who was clearly behind him in the pecking order. JWP was brilliant in the warm-up win over Romania with his set-piece delivery being a constant menace. In terms of technical ability, Ward-Prowse is
debatably the best England has to offer and would have been a useful player to bring on
to continue our threats from set-pieces.
Ward-Prowse would have been a player who could have been considered to take a penalty. With his set-piece prowess, I would be confident with him stepping up despite missing from the spot for Southampton. Having two centre backs not play a minute seems like a missed opportunity for extra creativity options from the bench.
I also feel like Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden were underused throughout the tournament.
They are extremely talented individuals who defenders really don’t enjoy coming up against. In the future, they need to be getting a lot more time to show what they can do.
As a final point despite my negativity in this article I really am delighted with the team’s efforts and their performances over the last month. I don’t feel let down by any individual they all gave absolutely everything and I really hope this group of players can take the next step and win a trophy. I feel moving forward we have to be a more aggressive attacking side with the young players that we have at our disposal.
The emotions are still really raw right now and I know with a semi-final in 2018 and a
final here it is harsh to not rate Southgate. I think he is a very good man-manager who does motivate the players, but will his tactics ever get the best out of them? Playing not to lose for such a long period of the match to go on and not lift the trophy is something I am really disappointed with.