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England ready to finally break free from shadow of the past – this is their time

Adrian Rutherford


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Harry Kane celebrates with team mates after scoring their side's second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium on July 07, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Harry Kane celebrates with team mates after scoring their side's second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium on July 07, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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England captain Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, collected from Queen Elizabetgh II, after beating West Germany in the World Cup Final at Wembley, London. File photo dated 30/07/66

England captain Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, collected from Queen Elizabetgh II, after beating West Germany in the World Cup Final at Wembley, London. File photo dated 30/07/66

PA

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Harry Kane celebrates with team mates after scoring their side's second goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Semi-final match between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium on July 07, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The shadow of Bobby Moore will loom over the England squad arriving at Wembley later on their day of destiny.

The spectre of 1966 hangs all across tonight’s Euro 2020 final against Italy, but it is most physically manifested in the bronze sculpture of the legendary World Cup-winning captain, perhaps their greatest player, standing proudly atop the plinth outside the national stadium.

Tonight England play their biggest game since that fabled July afternoon, when they beat West Germany to win the World Cup, their only major trophy.

Since then, 437 players have pulled on the famous Three Lions jersey. A small number have come close to emulating the 1966 team - there were semi-final defeats in 1990 and 1996, both on penalties, and in extra time in 2018 - but it has only been close. None have come this far.

And tonight, finally, they can end 55 years of hurt and frustration; near misses and penalty misses. England expects.

 

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They have grown as a team through this tournament, via a path of redemption against Germany, culminating in Wednesday night’s semi-final defeat of Denmark, which swept away decades of bitter memories.

All the hurt has been replaced by hope, at least for now. You can feel it here, see it too. England flags fluttered from cars as day broke. The sun is shining. After the darkness of the last 15 months, life feels good again.

Passengers arriving into London last night were confronted with a message from a team sponsor reading: ‘Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt, Hurt … hope’ - a reference to each of the last 54 years.

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England captain Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, collected from Queen Elizabetgh II, after beating West Germany in the World Cup Final at Wembley, London. File photo dated 30/07/66

England captain Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, collected from Queen Elizabetgh II, after beating West Germany in the World Cup Final at Wembley, London. File photo dated 30/07/66

PA

England captain Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet Trophy, collected from Queen Elizabetgh II, after beating West Germany in the World Cup Final at Wembley, London. File photo dated 30/07/66

Tournaments bring together people, even at a time when we are still supposed to be two metres apart.

There is so much good will for this team, a unifying force for good in a country so often searching for its soul in recent times.

From Marcus Rashford and his campaign for free school meals, filling young people not just with food but with hope; to Jordan Henderson, who fundraised for the NHS. Harry Kane, leading on the pitch, and leading the fight off it too to stop councils and schools selling off grassroots pitches, the fields of dreams for so many, who today will be dreaming of one day emulating these England players.

At the front, Gareth Southgate, the man who got 4,000 abusive letters after his missed penalty cost England at Euro 96, now a national hero.

As he knows, it hasn’t always been like this. On the night that England exited Euro 2016 to Iceland, a crowd seething with anger and bitterness heckled the players with shouts of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’.

Last night Southgate reflected: ”When we started, three or four years ago, we had people throwing paper aeroplanes, they weren't behind the team and there was an apathy. Now the energy in the stadium is fantastic. That is so important.”

And so to tonight, against possibly the team of the tournament, and an Italian side unbeaten in 33 games. Danger lurks everywhere, and England must expect.

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Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire

PA

Harry Maguire

Harry Maguire and John Stones will be tested by the attacking triumvirate of Lorenzo Insigne, Ciro Immobile and Federico Chiesa. Kyle Walker must be alive to Emerson’s willingness to surge forward from left back, as he did against Spain.

Ahead of them, Mason Mount will need to hassle and hurry Jorginho, his Chelsea team-mate, who is so important to this Italian side, denying him the time and space which could damage England so much. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips must swarm all over Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella.

Harry Kane will look to drop deeper, as he did so intelligently against Denmark, allowing Sterling and Bukayo Saka to test what is left in the legs of the ageing Leonardo Bonucci and Georgino Chellini -combined age 70 - after Tuesday night’s 120 minutes against the Spanish.

For England, Sterling and Kane will carry much of the attacking threat, as well as the hopes of a nation, seeking to end all those years of hurt. Some questioned Sterling’s place in the team before the tournament. There were calls for Kane to be dropped before the Germany game just 12 days ago. Not now.

A game that is so finely balanced could go the distance and Southgate will look to the likes of Jack Grealish and Phil Foden, coming off the bench, to give England fresh impetus as the clock ticks on. Expect Southgate also to draw on the big game experience of Jordan Henderson to help steady this young team.

On these young shoulders rest so many hopes, so many dreams. A chance to unburden the ghosts of the past, finally.

The memories of '66 can be replaced by those from the summer of ’21, when this team came of age.

Their day of destiny can become a night of dreams.

This is their time.


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