The Hangover & Coming Around


Euro 2020 ended in a rainstorm last night and just as well. The elements doused the anger of English yobs exiting Wembley furious at yet another snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory.

Euro 2020

It poured down most of today in southern England, properly drenching any residual ire. 

England had failed to exploit home advantage again as they had at Euro '96, their best shot at their first European Championship slipping from their grasp from twelve yards.

The post-mortems are in and the consensus is that Gareth Southgate erred in putting two of his most inexperienced players - Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, on the crucial fourth and fifth penalty kicks. He explained he had picked the best penalty-takers from training. They both missed, as did Marcus Rashford.

None of England's missed kicks were poor. Gianluigi Donnarumma was an excellent goalkeeper who saved two well hit penalties, while Rashford sent him the wrong way before agonisingly hitting a post.

The Manchester United star penned a 48-line mea culpa on Twitter today, as people fell over each other to stand behind the three England players who missed their kicks and received racist abuse on social media afterwards (one result you could definitely predict).

The culture war subtext to England's campaign exploded today as Rashford's mural in Manchester was defaced, a Z-list comic tweeted about skin colour and missing penalties and a Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke opined that Rashford should have kept his mouth shut about free school meals and practised spot kicks instead.

England defender Tyrone Mings laid into the Home Secretary on Twitter, lambasting Priti Patel for refusing to condemn fans booing the taking of the knee earlier in the tournament while then u-turning at the end by criticising said racists:

The Prime Minister did condemn the racism at today's press conference, but Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner commented, tartly, "If you blow the dog whistle then you are to blame when the dogs start barking."

Politicians trying to milk football's popularity is always unpleasant, from Benito Mussolini at the 1934 World Cup, through Jorge Videla in 1978 right up to Boris Johnson pulling on an England shirt and bedecking the Prime Minister's residence in cheap bunting in 2020, while claiming on national radio that the Englishman who scored a hat-trick at the 1966 World Cup final was Bobby Moore.

You wish they would give the sport a wide berth, but that is wishful thinking. Johnson eyed the tournament as symbiotic with Brexit, another chance for good old England to stick one to Johnny Foreigner, and the inevitable Three Lions victory as a masks-off knees-up as a taster for the big relaxation of Covid restrictions in a week's time. Whoops.

It is curious to observe how the multinational Premier League and England national team are now the flag bearers for a multicultural and inclusive nation, while its loudest backers, from the yobs storming the gates at Wembley yesterday to boorish politicians, believe in a different country.

Booing black players when they kneel or miss a penalty but cheering them to the rafters when they score for England encapsulates this national schizophrenia, as it does in France, the Netherlands and other post-colonial lands. Or as a friend put it to me succinctly today, given how many black men have excelled at our sport from Pele to Eusebio, Ruud Gullit and Kylian Mbappe, "Why are racists football fans?"

Southgate reiterated his disgust with the neanderthal element of England's following today, as did the heir to the throne and president of the F.A. Prince William, but fielded most questions on his team falling short.

He had also gambled with a defensive formation and had been less ambitious with his substitutions than Roberto Mancini as the game progressed last night. After a dream start and a controlled first half, England conceded and failed to get back into the contest. 

They held out securely but could not win in 120 minutes, despite the panoply of attacking options on the England bench. 

After their equaliser, Italy continued to monopolise possession and bossed the game in what was effectively an away match, but Southgate insisted today he could not have fielded "five or six" attacking players because then England would have left gaps and lost in normal time.

He also cited Italy's use of Federico Chiesa as a false nine which forced his defence to stay put rather than come out as they might have wanted to. In other words, it was safety first but it failed.

All that said, the game did end 1-1 and England's defence did not look like being breached a second time. The difference was the spot kicks which could have gone either way. Lest we forget, Italy missed two as well.

The Azzurri got little sleep as they touched down at Fiumicino airport early this morning and met the President and adoring fans. The sunny skies and smiles of Rome were a world away from the rainclouds and rancour of London.

Euro 2020

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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