England made it all the way to the final of Euro 2020 where they played Italy at Wembley Stadium in London. The winners would be crowned champions of Europe, the losers little more than a note in the history books.
Followers of the Three Lions were in high spirits before kick-off, chanting â€œfootballâ€™s coming homeâ€. Gareth Southgateâ€™s men were favourites with all major online betting sites to lift the trophy but, as is often the case with the beautiful game, things didnâ€™t go according to plan. Football didnâ€™t go home. Instead, football went to Rome.
England exploded out of the traps
Following what was a tense build-up for both teams, England exploded out of the traps to settle any nerves in the camp. The Three Lions roared into an early lead with Luke Shaw hacking the ball into the net inside just two minutes. It was a dream start for the home support and they hoped Italy would then collapse, the floodgates swinging open for a triumphant English win.
The Italians are a patient and deeply talented footballing nation, however. This wasnâ€™t in the script but it wasnâ€™t the first time they had fallen behind in a big match. The players knew exactly what was expected of them. Italy stuck to the task, dominating the football and putting England under pressure.
They finally got the goal their play deserved on 67 minutes when Leonardo Bonucci bundled the ball past sprawling England keeper Jordan Pickford. The shot-stopper had already made numerous important saves prior to losing that goal but he eventually cracked under heavy and continued pressure.
The match finished 1-1 after 90 minutes before going into extra time and then penalties were needed to separate the sides. England has suffered some famous penalty shoot-out defeats at major competitions in the past. Sunday was to prove another. They missed three penalties to hand Italy a dramatic 3-2 win from the spot. Fans filtered out of the stadium with a heavy heart, wondering what could have been as the Italian players celebrated their victory on the field below before their supporters.
Speaking to the press post-match, manager Southgate told of the hurt in his camp but was already planning for the future. The respected boss took England through an entire Euro 2020 campaign without suffering defeat and conceding just two goals. Critics accused the boss of being overly defensive but a solid backline paved the way for the attacking players to create chances and score goals.
What next for England
Residents on planet football now turn their attention to the return of the English Premier League in August. Thatâ€™s when the once-proud England support will be divided, separated by club rivalry. Until the next time. So, whatâ€™s next for Southgate and England?
The focus moves to the World Cup in 2022 in Qatar. That is a tournament that has its fair share of critics but itâ€™s one England will have high hopes of winning. The nation has never been crowned champions of Europe but they have previously ruled the world, being World Champions back in 1966. Will the pain of that Euro 2020 defeat in London spur the players to glory in Qatar next summer? We must wait and see, but thereâ€™s no doubt they have the talent and ambition to go all the way. Southgate and his backroom staff will use that loss to Italy to spur the players on. They must first qualify for the tournament.
England is top of their World Cup qualifying pool with nine points on the board from three games – a maximum haul. They sit in pole position ahead of Hungary in second place, two points off the pace, with Albania third on nine points. Poland, Andorra and San Marino make up the chasing pack, but those teams are already toiling.
Team England can take a major step towards Qatar when playing Hungary in their next group match on September 2nd away from home. Continue their winning ways, and the team will all but across the finish line. Southgateâ€™s men are then back at Wembley for the visit of Andorra three days later and will be hoping to have a full 15 points on the board.