Sport

Oh so near, and yet so far for England.

But this was always going to be a matter of progress. And as much as it will hurt the players right now, they have shown tremendous progress. When Gareth Southgate took charge of the England team, did anyone think that England would make a major final? Because I certainly didn’t. England announced a ten-year-plan back in 2012. Two of the points on that plan? Reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020 and win the 2022 World Cup. Well, at their last two tournament appearances, they reached a semi-final and a final. I would say the plan is on track. And while the final did end in defeat, England lost to a side that have not lost for three years. Italy were the best team at this tournament. They started the tournament with an extremely impressive win over Turkey and finished it by using all of their experience and know-how to beat an England side playing on home soil in front of a home crowd, that were in the ascendency. And a huge acknowledgement has to go out to Roberto Mancini for the job he has done since taking over as Italy manager. For a man that many had written off, to take Italy from the depths they had fallen to, failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, to European champions at the first time of asking. Mancini has reinvigorated and restored pride in Italian football, and broken the mould for how an international team has historically been successful. Italy were able to blend their typical defensive nous with an attacking edge that you rarely see at international tournaments. England were able to be very pragmatic in their approach and it so nearly paid off. This is the right path for the team to be on; they just have to execute it slightly better in future.

This team will only continue to get better. The three lads who missed their penalties on Sunday are all under 25 years old. They are going to be pivotal members of the side that hopefully goes to Qatar in 2022. They all put themselves on the spot and under that immense pressure. That alone requires serious balls. Especially for a lad like Bukayo Saka, who isn’t even 20 yet. The only other sporting situation I can think of that come close to this level of pressure is the Cricket World Cup final of 2019. Not only was it something that the England team had been working towards for a long time, but the way the game panned out made it one of the tensest viewing experiences of recent years. Like the final on Sunday, that game at Lord’s went down to the last ball of the whole tournament, down to two men running 22 yards like their lives depended on it, one throw that had to get there. That time England came out on the side all sporting teams want to emerge on, the winning side. In doing so, they made history and became the first England team to win the Cricket World Cup. Marcus Rashford was about half a centimetre from glancing his penalty off the post and into the corner of the net rather than wide. He has also taken high pressure penalties before and scored, but this was the highest pressure that an England player can face.

However, none of these lads should have to apologise for this. Ultimately, it’s one kick of a football. It won’t define these guys as players and it certainly won’t as people. And I pity the knuckleheads who posted that garbage online. What a sad, sad little world you live in. This team is a true reflection of modern England. Culturally diverse, socially conscious and proud of where they come from. It’s not just the success on field that captivated people, it was how the whole squad and management conducted themselves off it. These are no preening prima donnas. These are intelligent young men with something to say.

England will come back stronger from this. And this loss, while it will hurt for a while, will make future success all the sweeter. These players will have suffered heartbreak to get there. And I now can see a future where England win major silverware, and bring the years of hurt to an end.

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