JEFF POWELL: At the final hurdle, Gareth Southgate got it wrong

JEFF POWELL: At the final Wembley hurdle, Gareth Southgate got it WRONG… the England boss picked boys who had hardly kicked a ball in the entire tournament to lift our penalty curse – and it wasn’t his only mistake at Euro 2020

  • England suffered heartbreak as they were beaten on penalties by Italy in the final
  • Gareth Southgate made a number of wrong decisions at the very last hurdle 
  • Picking an extra defender turned England into a soggy squib from the off 
  • A second-minute opener which caught the Italians sleeping still wasn’t enough
  • England’s valiant defiance when being pressure-cooked for periods saved face
  • Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here

The truth will always catch you out. No matter how manic the hype nor how outrageously generous the gods of fortune, ultimately the reality will kick you where it hurts the most.

It took until the very end – a denouement which plunged the nation into irrational mourning – but two of football’s most abiding maxims caught up with England at Wembley’s final hurdle.

Champions do not take the field with the aim of avoiding defeat instead of trying to win. And you win nothing with kids. Gareth Southgate got it wrong from start to finish of the Euro match which mattered above all others.

England suffered an agonising defeat in the final of Euro 2020 on penalties against Italy 

Gareth Southgate got the big decisions wrong at the final hurdle at Wembley on Sunday night

To begin, his decision to select an extra defender against Italy in place of a forward dampened England’s firepower into a soggy squib. Read the small print, Gareth, before you sign the insurance contract.

To finish, he sent out boys who had hardly kicked a ball in the entire tournament in the bizarre hope they might lift that everlasting curse of slow death by penalties.

Marcus Rashford, Jordan Sancho and Bukayo Saka were about as warmed up as ice cream cones at the North Pole. Sacrificial lambs to the slaughter as senior players were allowed to cover their eyes.

‘Blame me,’ said Southgate of the latter insanity, So we should. But we must question also the disciples who had been acclaiming him as some kind of managerial messiah, tactical genius and Freudian psychotherapist.

Be he waistcoat Gareth or spotted tie-man, Mr Southgate is still the same pleasant chap who found himself in one World Cup semi and now a Euro final. 

He reached both via groups as accommodating as a painted landlady at a grotty B&B in Blackpool. He has been found wanting on both occasions.

The notion that he is bestowed with some Fergie-esque grasp of motivation and strategy is heresy. Passivity was never one of Sir Alex’s strong suits. 

Nor would Sir Alf Ramsey, who by the way is still the only England manager to win a major trophy, have countenanced the nonsense which pervaded this latest England campaign.

Taking the knee before kick-off in support of some woke politicised protest imported from America? Don’t think so. Allowing players like young Sancho to negotiate massive transfer deals in mid-tournament? 

Jadon Sancho made the move to Man United mid-tournament – he missed a penalty last night 

If the truly great Bobby Moore had been granted that latitude in mid-World Cup ’66 his career would have taken a different turn. But then Moore did enjoy the privilege of receiving the Jules Rimet Trophy from the white-gloved hands of Queen Elizabeth!

Try concentrating on the game at hand, gentlemen.

England did enliven our Covid times with a slaying of old, albeit decrepit, rivals Germany. Loved that. They kept the population boozing by stumbling past Denmark – mighty Denmark minus their one cardiac-arrested superstar – without scoring a proper goal. Thank god for that.

But when it came to the second best team in the tournament – Roberto Mancini had the elegance to defer to Spain after his renaissance Italy edged them on penalties – the game was up. Even though another piece of good luck came England’s way when Mancini’s most brilliant defender severed his Achilles in the quarter-final.

A second-minute opener from Luke Shaw, which caught the Italians still sleeping, was not enough. Nor was home advantage. Ah, yes. Home advantage at Wembley for all but one – as it happened irrelevant – fixture against woeful Ukraine.

Luke Shaw’s second-minute opener for England caught the Italians sleeping in the final 

How did that plan out in a pan-European tournament? The huge English crowds provide the answer to that. Hopefully their team’s sobering defeat will dilute the ensuing Covid spike. Central London was eerily quiet on Sunday night.

England’s valiant defiance when being pressure-cooked for long periods saved faced as well as limiting Italy to only the equaliser. But then their manager sent his lambs to the slaughter by spot-kicks.

Maybe just as well. Victory would have been acclaimed beyond the level of its achievement. This was not the World Cup.

Italy are worthy champions of Europe but neither they nor England were required to beat the best on the planet on the way to Sunday’s final.

Argentina and Brazil, to name but two, were otherwise engaged 24 hours earlier in the final of the South American championship.

Italy are worthy champions and were one of the best teams throughout the tournament

By all means give dear Gareth his knighthood, if Her Majesty is so minded. But the concept of letting him gentle along to another World Cup, let alone beyond, defies conscience.

Faint heart never won fair lady.

It is not just the mistakes which prompt this conclusion. We all make them. I committed one of my own in these columns on Saturday when I was asked to select the best England XI from among the World Cup-winning heroes of 1966 and our Euro hopefuls of this weekend.

Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Co will naturally be judged against the boys of 1966

Euphoria is an enemy of us all. That selection was premature. It is the final product by which Kane, Sterling and Co should have been judged against the golden boys of that summer 55 years ago. As one who was there back then I should have known better.

My apologies to those legends I omitted. Here is my revised assessment of a team compiled from across the ages who might well have beaten Italy this Sunday:

Banks; Cohen, J Charlton, Moore, Wilson; Ball, Stiles, R Charlton, Peters; Hunt, Hurst.

Manager: Ramsey.

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