The 2021 Euros were supposed to be the major tournament where football finally came home to England. Instead, Italy won Euro 2020 in stunning fashion in a penalty shootout. Three members of the England squad, chosen by England National Team manager Gareth Southgate, failed to hit the back of the net.
Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma stunned the home crowd at Wembley, and the soccer world as a whole, when he turned away the penalty kick from talented youngster Bukayo Saka. Now all that’s left is to assess blame, and that lies squarely at the feet of Southgate. Again.
Gareth Southgate’s saved penalty cost England a trip to the Euro 1996 Final
This is not the first time Southgate saw his England National Team go to a penalty shootout in the European Championship. He was even more intimately involved in the semifinal of Euro 1996 involving England versus Germany.
Southgate was a central defender/defensive midfielder for Aston Villa in 1996 and played on the England National Team in the 1996 tournament.
He played in all five English Euro ’96 matches as either as part of a center-back pair or three-man unit. The lone exception was against Scotland. He started in midfield for that match before moving back in the second half, according to FourFourTwo.
The 1996 England squad took on German in the (basically) the same stadium – Wembley was knocked down and rebuilt, reopening in 2007 – they lost in on Sunday. That match 25 years ago deadlocked at 1-1 through 120 minutes after goals by German striker Stefan Kuntz and his English counterpart, Alan Shearer.
The match went to penalties to decide which side advanced to the Final. The shootout went past the designated five penalty-takers, with each player on both sides converting their chances from the spot. The sixth player to step up for England was Southgate.
The inexperienced penalty-taker shot low to German keeper Andreas Kopke’s left. The shot wasn’t hard enough or far enough toward the post, and Kopke got to it easily. German captain Andreas Molle converted the subsequent spot-kick, and England lost.
Southgate mishandled the penalty shootout lineup in the Euro 2020 Final
Fate conspired to give Southgate another chance at glory in the Euro 2020 Final. Goals from England’s Luke Shaw and Italy’s Leonardo Bonucci sent the game to extra time and then penalties.
The manager, who tinkered with lineups throughout the tournament, subbed two attackers in late. Southgate preferred Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho over Jordan Henderson and Kyle Walker for penalties. Both entered the game in the 120th minute and had very little game time to warm up.
Still, Southgate chose these two youngsters, 23 and 21 respectively, to take two of the five penalties. For the fifth and final penalty, Southgate tapped the 19-year-old Saka.
After veterans Harry Kane and Harry Maguire converted their penalties, the two young subs failed to convert. Then, English keeper Jordan Pickford miraculously saved in Jorginho’s penalty, keeping England alive. Saka stepped up to take one of the most important kicks in English football history and, like his manager 25 years before, didn’t hit the ball high enough, wide enough, or hard enough to beat Donnarumma.
In addition to throwing such young players to the wolves in the most pressure-packed situation, Southgate choked by disregarding some of his squad’s biggest and brightest veteran stars.
Raheem Sterling, the English hero who finally broke the “German jinx,” is the most inexcusable non-penalty-taker for Southgate. His Manchester City teammates Walker and John Stones – who have played in more major professional tournament finals than anyone else in the world in the last five years – could have also filled those spots. As could Jack Grealish, the 2021 Euro’s English super-sub who has taken penalties for Aston Villa in the past.
The manager is taking full responsibility for the loss
Some English press members have attacked Sterling and Grealish for not demanding they take the penalty ahead of Saka, but Southgate is taking full responsibility for the order. The manager told reporters, per Sky News:
It’s down to me. I decided on the penalty takers based on what we’ve done in training. Nobody is on their own. That’s my call, and it totally rests on me. They were the best takers we had left on the pitch.
It is noble that Southgate stood up and took responsibility (again). However, the fact remains that the decision to send a group of young players out instead of tested veterans will go down as another giant missed opportunity for the England National Team.
Another giant missed opportunity caused by Gareth Southgate.
All stats courtesy of UEFA.com