Euro 2020 Hindsight

As each day goes by the pain and disappointment of Euro 2020 will gradually fade away in the rear-view mirror.

It won’t be a rear-view mirror going along a super-highway, but rather one attached to the Glacier Express.

The showdown in the final against Italy will become England’s most well-known match in modern football times for the excitement and increased expectation it brought to the nation.

Photo by Krivec Ales from Pexels

England had arrived at a summit and, by taking an early lead within the first two minutes of kick-off, it felt like England could conquer the mountain – the mountain they had climbed in this new chapter of English football.

But with 88 minutes to go before the final whistle, the contest remained wide-open.

Gareth Southgate and Roberto Mancini would have run through strategies for different situations. I would love to have been a fly on both coaching benches when England scored.

An early goal always comes as a surprise; they barely give the opposition time to settle into any kind of rhythm.

What happened next determined the destiny of the teams.

Did England feel relief and hang on to the notion they could relax by defending their lead until the bitter end? If so, was it a conscious or sub-conscious decision?

Or did Italy stick to their original plan or switch to Plan B?

There was a lot resting on this final for both teams: England had lost their way for decades, while Italy are bouncing back from the disappointment of not qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Mancini and Southgate have transformed their teams.

The juries were out, but most felt Italy were the stronger team on paper. Any predictions for an English victory were based on desire, hope, home advantage and lucky breaks.

Italy certainly had the tougher route to the final, requiring an extra 30 minutes to edge aside Austria in the last 16. In the semi-final they needed penalties as well to scrape past Spain in a thriller.

A strong and fast start can send out strong messages to the opposition and, given Italy’s journey to the final, it would have made sense for England to inject some energy and urgency into the game to stretch their 1-0 lead. Then Italy may well have succumbed.

Sitting on a 1-0 lead is a risky place to be. It’s as if you’re putting yourself up against the ropes in a boxing ring. You’re inviting the opposition to go on the offensive.

Onlookers said England dominated the first half, but it was Italy who went into the dressing room in control. Twenty minutes into the contest Italy held the ball for several minutes in midfield, stringing together accurate passes at an even and low-key tempo. They maintained possession. Nothing else. This seemed to be the turning point but not an obvious one.

Italy took the lead in dictating the play and England didn’t seem to have any answers. Despite a perceived easier route to the final, England were feeling the physical strain in the second half. Ultimately, it was a missed opportunity to capitalise on their early lead - to conquer the Italians. And Europe.

It came down to the combined experience of Mancini and his players to draw level and force the play to extra time.

Although the outcome was decided on penalties, it was a fair result all-in-all!