In the inimitable words of the great Ken Wolstenholme – they think it’s all over – it is now.
That’s it til Qatar 2022 and what an end to the Euros it was!
I’d like to say that the game was the most entertaining, end to end pitch battle of the greatest football has to offer across the continent of Europe. Which, I would like to confirm – just for reference – the UK is still part of. We haven’t managed to extricate ourselves from the continent of Europe, we have merely left the economic shackles of the Federal state of Europe. Back to the subject at hand. I would love to have said that the display of the 22 men on the Wembley pitch was the pinnacle of footballing skill, a masterclass of managerial strategy and a feast of physical and mental endurance ….. but it clearly wasn’t.
It was, in the end, 11 men holding onto a 1-0 lead for 88 minutes, with no game plan apart from get the ball to Kane, resulting in the dreaded dead ball situation which is England’s nemesis, and which Southgate should have avoided at all costs – but didn’t.
To be fair, they got to the final.
Pre tournament, the favourites were France, Belgium, Germany and Portugal going on the form of the likes of De Bruyne, Mbappe etc etc. So, realistically England although not rank outsiders, were not exactly going to be the ones that the bookies were panicking about. In fact, Wales had put on a far better show in the early round. Southgate had unsurprisingly picked 5 right backs and continued with his game plan of “get the ball to Kane”. The team selection was only ever going to revolve around getting as many behind the ball as he could in the hope that a lose ball would end up at Harry’s feet.
As usual I am biased, but if it hadn’t been for LUSC Sponsored player, Kalvin Phillips putting that sublime pass in to Sterling, there wasn’t going to be a goal in that game against Croatia. Apart from Pickford’s display last night in front of goal, there hasn’t been anyone else in the England team who has stepped up to the plate more than Kalvin.
This was Kalv’s first tournament, hopefully the first of many. He had his doubters in the press and social media as usual at the start, but he had a solid, resolute display in all of the games which any hardened international midfield veteran would have been proud of.
After their first game, I said that Italy would be a difficult team to beat. A team not unlike the old Championship teams, with a wall of giant immovable defenders and a Goliath between the sticks. That coupled with a bit of pace on the wings and a presence in front of goal was going to be difficult to wear down, but even worse, would be even harder to fend off once they were camped out in the oppositions half. As the second half wore on, it was like watching the Siege of Troy, with wave after wave of destruction. Their goal was inevitable and the trio of Kane, Sterling and Mount could merely watch in horror as the onslaught on Pickford’s goal gathered pace.
As with all games, the keyboard managers out there and the armies of armchair know it alls – albeit with the benefit of hindsight, could see that Southgate needed to make changes early in the second half. If England had come out with guns blazing in the second half and scored a quick goal, I would have been happy with just defending the lead. But they didn’t and as the game wore on, Mancini used his subs to good effect, while Southgate kept Kane on, trying to add another £10 million onto his transfer fee in the coming weeks. Granted, taking the Captain off may have seemed a difficult decision, but you pick your players to win the game – at any cost. And that game needed to be won in 90 minutes – or at least in 120 minutes. There was no way – short of Pickford growing another two feet in height and width and another couple of limbs – that England were ever going to win a penalty shoot out.
Southgate didn’t change it soon enough though. Even though he had the likes of Calvert Lewin to give him an aerial advantage or Reece James to give him a bit of pace. He left it as it was, even though Mancini’s defence had already been booked. By the time Grealish got on – it was too late.
So it came down to pens. In truth, had the ball had not gone out in the 119th minute, there might not have been the opportunity to bring on two of the youngest and most inexperienced England players. I wish he hadn’t.
In the after match commentary, it was said that Gareth had already picked the penalty takers going on what they had demonstrated during the practice sessions. As if the practice sessions could replicate the pressures of a situation after 120 minutes in the final of the Euros – Gareth.
Regardless of who took the penalties, whoever missed was always going to get sorely abused. The idiots who have added racial slurs to their social media viciousness have no shame. They are probably the same ones who slated the Whattheheckingbottom Leeds side. The ones who said that the likes of Cooper, Dallas and Bamford weren’t good enough to wear the shirt and that there needed to be a wholesale change of the team if we were ever to get promotion.
These so called “fans” are the ones who want the instant success, the ones who expect and want the glory of winning but who have no concept of the hard graft that comes beforehand. The scenes of people storming the entrances on Sunday and at the semifinal game as well, without tickets, are a sad reminder that there exists a group of so called “fans” who think they deserve to watch a football game simply because they want to. The ones who have no idea of the hard work that goes into supporting your football team through thick and thin. These are probably the same ones who get a ticket somehow to a game and then spend the whole game on their phones taking selfies of themselves at a game that they are only ever going to watch if the team is winning.
Despite all of this, when it comes to a penalty shoot out, the rule is hard and low. Pick your spot and put your foot through it …. There is a time and place for hop, skip and jump – it’s called dinnertime and a playground, not Wembley .