There is a clip of Jordan Pickford doing the rounds on social media that has brought comfort to some since Sunday night, acting as a balm to the heartbreak. The England goalkeeper is facing down Italy’s fifth and possibly final penalty in the fateful shoot-out, knowing he has to prevent Jorginho from scoring in order to prevent those 55 years of hurt from ticking over into a 56th and beyond.
In the clip, ripped from the BBC’s coverage, Pickford is baring his teeth and twitching his head – looking like the lad at your primary who liked to set things on fire and pull the limbs off insects – but then out of nowhere he finds a moment of serenity, then mouths the words “no problem” to himself, and a few seconds later he saves the penalty.
Sorry everyone, but it’s not quite as it seems. From the vantage point of the Wembley press box you could tell that Pickford was not geeing himself up but in fact talking to the referee Bjorn Kuipers, who is out of shot in the television footage but had moved towards Pickford at that point and spoken to him, presumably reminding him to stay on his line.
Still, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. And really, there is no need to further rip the arse out of a moment that could have gone down in the annals of English football history to be played and replayed for years to come, but instead had a lifespan of just 47 seconds.
Perhaps we should have known. It is hard for a team to miss two of their first four penalties and win a shoot-out. That thought will have run through Pickford’s head in those moments. Jorginho’s previous penalty – five days earlier, at the same Wembley goalmouth, rolled into the bottom right-hand corner to earn a place in this final – will have crossed his mind too.
Pickford would also have been aware, though, that it is not often a goalkeeper makes two saves from five and loses a shoot-out. Despite already denying Andrea Belotti, this was not only a save he absolutely had to make in order to keep England’s Euro 2020 hopes alive, but it also had the potential to provide a decisive shift in momentum and turn the entire shootout on its head.
There was a sense of inevitability around Jorginho’s kick, given the composure he had shown against Spain in the semi-final and his exemplary career record from the spot, which made it all the more remarkable when Pickford pushed his attempt against the post and gathered at the second time of asking, enjoying the fortune that had eluded him during the scramble to prevent Leonardo Bonucci’s equaliser.
From almost certain defeat, Pickford delivered not victory but a sudden sense of possibility. As Wembley rejoiced in this reprieve, It did not feel like match point Italy but, of course, it still was. Bukayo Saka courageously stepped up and it is his kick, rather than Pickford’s save, which will be best remembered. It is hard for a team to miss three of their first five penalties and win a shootout, no matter how well the goalkeeper plays.
Even so, this summer has been a triumph for England’s goalkeeper. Aside from a shaky performance in the semi-final when targeted by Denmark’s press and on set-pieces, he has played well in every game. By and large, there were few moments of the madcap eccentricity seen at Everton during the first half of the season. There was instead calmness, composure and, most importantly of all, absolute competence.
Gareth Southgate would argue that Pickford has never delivered but good performances at international level. “I thought he had a brilliant tournament,” the England manager said in his bleary-eyed Monday morning debriefing. “The number of times I’ve sat here and his place in the team has been questioned, he’s constantly delivered for us. This tournament I think was his best run of performances for England and he should be hugely proud of that.”
There is no ‘Golden Glove’ equivalent at the European Championship, though Pickford would have won it if there were, and though Southgate credits the collective with only conceding twice at this tournament rather than just the defence, Pickford’s role in that cannot be understated. “Of course goalkeeper was a big part of that,” he said. “Two saves in the shootout. He could do little more in terms of keeping the ball out of our net. That’s always the starting point for any goalkeeper. He had a really outstanding tournament.”
Was he Euro 2020’s outstanding goalkeeper too? Gianluigi Donnarumma was named the tournament’s best player after a steady month, topped off by saving two of England’s kicks in the shoot-out. Pickford saved just as many of Italy’s, though, as well conceding fewer goals and keeping more clean sheets. The difference is obviously that Donnarumma won and Pickford lost. He would still have needed another save – or Italian miss – if Saka had scored. He could easily have been in Saka’s shoes too. He was down to take the sixth penalty.
But even so, for the 47 seconds after that brilliant save, it felt like he could write his name in history. Instead, through no fault of his own, it will be forgotten.
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