Getting to the final of a major tournament is incredible. Losing it on penalties after taking a second-minute lead is gut-wrenching.
But, after years of watching England teams veer from glorious failure to abject displays on the big stage, I’m not as crushed as some might be this morning. As I told an American friend of mine during the game last night, when you’re used to experiencing the worst-case scenario, you get to the point where you’re not scared of it anymore. After watching England since 1986, that’s where I found myself this past month.
Now that’s how you start a major final… So happy for Luke Shaw, who has been superb throughout this tournament. pic.twitter.com/ZNuyBYpKey
— Simon Head (@simonhead) July 11, 2021
So, when our super-talented young players stepped up to the spot for the penalty shoot-out against Italy, I was ready for the outcome either way.
I must admit, I do question the wisdom of putting such a young, inexperienced player on our crucial fifth spot-kick, and I really hope Bukayo Saka is able to continue his hugely promising career without that miss defining him as a player and weighing like a millstone around his neck. I think he should have been better protected from the risk and am genuinely surprised Southgate seemingly wasn’t mindful of that when putting together his shootout order.
But, while I do think Southgate could, and should, have reacted faster and more positively in the second half when we started defending too deep, I’m not going to let that define my view of the job he’s done, and will hopefully continue to do, as our national team manager.
He’s completely turned us around on the international stage and, after reaching the World Cup semis in 2018 and the final of Euro 2020, he’s proven himself to be one of the best managers the Three Lions have ever had.
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But, while his work has turned things around on the pitch, it’s off the field that Southgate has arguably made the biggest impact. The country has fallen in love with its national team again and, while some of the reaction to our defeat has exposed the vile racist underbelly that sadly still plagues our country, this summer has inspired us as a nation.
I hope he stays on for Qatar 2022 and beyond. I know the FA wants him to lead us through the Euros in 2024. Based on what he’s achieved with England so far, that’s the right call.
This may be the end of the Euro 2020 chapter, but with the World Cup in Qatar only one year away, it won’t be long before we’re pulling on our England shirts again, filled with hope that football might finally come home.
After all, 56 years of hurt won’t have stopped us dreaming.
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