How Football Almost Came Home: England’s EURO 2020 Review

England’s EURO 2020 Summary

A sad end to EURO 2020 for the Three Lions. A loss on penalties to Italy denied England a chance to lift their first silverware since 1966. As an England fan this result made me more sad than had we lost in normal time. Not only because the performance and tactics after 25 minutes was borderline diabolical but that the game was decided on penalties and the misses from three young players. Two of which had never taken an international penalty before. It is a bitter pill to take and from a United fan as well, to have watched two final losses on penalties is even harder. Here is an analysis of England’s EURO 2020 journey and how they can move forward and improve.

The EURO 2020 Group Stages showed very little but England finish top

England’s EURO 2020 group stages reminded me of the 2016 group stage. It seemed conservative, nervous and unadventurous. The first game, understandably lacked some of the main players due to European involvements in the Champions League and Europa League. The match against Croatia looked a difficult one but in fact, Croatia failed to really cause England’s backline a problem. Good movement from Kane left a gap for Sterling who himself made an intelligent run and Phillips fed him through and he opened the scoring. It was a big result as Croatia were England’s most difficult opponents on paper and it exorcised many demons from the World Cup Semi-Final in 2018.

The win was more important than the performance. But it left a lot of questions in the air about how this England team would fare in the later stages of the competition. The match against Scotland certainly didn’t help with that. A stale and toothless performance that made the bottom team of Group D the more dangerous opponent. The only real chances for England were a half-shout for a penalty and a decent chance for Rice late on which was defended well by Scott McTominay. England were second in the group after two games but a win on Matchday 3 would guarantee top spot and a difficult draw between France, Germany, Portugal and Hungary in the Round of 16.

Top Spot Secured

This time, Gareth Southgate made positive changes. He kept Luke Shaw in the side and brought back a now fit Harry Maguire. He also swapped Mount and Foden for Grealish and Saka. Surprising many with Sancho and Rashford left out for the 19 year old but the Arsenal star impressed on the big stage and as did the Villa Captain. Saka did brilliantly down the right to feed Grealish on the left hand side. He clipped the ball into the box and it was a smart header from Sterling to make it 1-0. It still wasn’t a superb performance as England did not create a lot of chances and the ones they did, they failed to convert bar the goal.

However, in the Group Stage it’s not always how you play but the results you get. At that stage, England were top and had been drawn with Germany following their dramatic 2-2 draw with Hungary and it would be a big ask for England. Germany at that point were defensively vulnerable but blew Portugal away on the counter with their wingbacks. It looked a tough ask and after the toothless performances in the Group Stages, an almost impossible task.

Exorcising more demons and creating history

South Africa, 2010. World Cup Round of 16. England lost 4-1 to Germany after Lampard’s ghost goal at 2-1 was not deemed to have crossed the line. That was the last time England played Germany in a competitive match. The last time England had beaten Germany in such was in 1966. Going into the game, the whole country was nervous. Germany lined up with a strong side that played excellent possession football and was also suited to playing on the counter. The game started with energy and attacking intent from both sides. Both sides’ wingbacks were getting forward but while Germany’s were putting crosses in, Walker and Tripper were reluctant to.

England started to grow stale but cue Jack Grealish. Off the bench, Grealish brought some energy to the performance and while England attacked he fed Shaw down the left whose cross was inch perfect to Sterling. Scoring this third of the tournament. England almost conceded immediately as Sterling gave the ball away inexcusably to Germany. Fate was on England’s side as had Muller placed his shot a foot narrower, 1-1. Instead, Shaw’s high press won the ball in the final third and it was his turn to find Grealish. Grealish curled a perfectly weighted cross to Kane who couldn’t miss. 2-0 and game over!

England beat Germany at last! The signs were there for the fans’ excitement to grow and the players looked much better. The defensive performance from England was outstanding. Phillips and Mount held their own against a world class midfield of Kroos and Goretzka and Sterling came up with the goods again for England. Grealish was so crucial to the win and Shaw continued his good form.

More Joy for the Red Devils in Rome

England then faced Ukraine in the Quarter Finals and played them off the park. Early in the game, Sterling fed Kane through and Kane picked up from where he left off with a good finish. England sparkled in Rome, especially Jadon Sancho who made his first start of the EURO 2020 finals. Shaw bagged two assists in the second half as his brilliant cross from the left picked out the head of Maguire who buried the ball in the net. Shaw then clipped a delicious ball into the box and Kane hit his second of the game and all but sealed the win.

Southgate made changes and Jordan Henderson headed his first ever England goal in just six minutes after coming on. England were in cruise control as they recorded their highest tournament win ever. Things looked promising and with a favourable semi-final against dark horses Denmark, England became favourites to win the EUROs.

Semi-Final Hoodoo Ended

England had the more favourable draw as Italy faced Spain in a tough and gruelling match that ended in penalties. Denmark looked excellent and got the opener from a superb freekick from Damsgard. While Pickford ought to have saved it, it was never a foul. Great technique from the 21-year old and Denmark had the dream start. Saka looked lively and as did Sterling and the Arsenal star drove down the right and was picked out by Kane perfectly and he put in a quality ball to Sterling but Kjaer got there first and bundled the ball into the net.

England huffed and puffed but could not get the winner in normal time, accepting extra time in the end. Fortunately, they did not have to wait for penalties this time as Sterling was brought down in the box and Kane stepped up to the spot. His penalty was poor but Schmeichel could not hold the ball and Kane fired in the rebound and England led for the first time in the match. England secured the win and despite looking a bit nervy in the last five, England moved on to their first final since 1966. A huge moment for the team and the country but Italy looked outstanding and hadn’t lost in over 30 games.

The EURO 2020 Final

England went into this game knowing Italy had not gone behind in a match for almost two years and that they have been the toughest team to beat this EURO campaign. Despite this, England found an early lead. Trippier found space down the right and whipped a beautiful ball to the back post and Luke Shaw was there to volley it off the post and into the net. Wembley erupted and England opened the scoring with a wonderful goal. The first thirty minutes was exciting, hungry and energetic from England but from that point, Italy dominated and England shrunk.

70% possession from Mancini’s side throughout the game demonstrated such and earned their equaliser in a somewhat scrappy manner. From a corner, Verratti won a header on Mount and Pickford clawed the ball off the line with a top save but it was only into Bonucci’s path who converted the goal. Extra time proved to be an equally difficult point for England. The midfield couldn’t get on the ball, the attack looked tired and immobile and the defence was unable to play out. It looked like England played for penalties. That turned out to be a mistake.

Another loss meant another year of hurt for England and to do it on penalties again is even more sickening. It looked like England tried to play for a 1-0 and that played into Italy’s hands. Questions have to be raised over the tactics and substitutions. Italy looked revitalised throughout the game as England trundled to the finish line. Then to bring two players on that have rarely played to take penalties, one of which has taken next to none in his short career. I think it was a very poor choice from Southgate but for the most-part, he has done an outstanding job.

What Next for England?

England are one of the up-and-coming sides with the team brimming with young, talented players who play at the top level. They need to win a trophy with this set of players because England have one of the best squads in the world and need to have their potential finally unlocked. They cannot go through another Golden Generation and ruin them. Southgate has given England more of an identity but has a lot more to learn and do better. There is still plenty to come from this England side and with the Qatar 2022 World Cup on the horizon, Southgate knows this team should compete for the trophy and get at least to the semi-finals again. But getting to the EURO final has set a benchmark for next winter. A trophy could set these players on a huge trajectory for international success. They just need to win the first one.

Author: Arjun Handa