Gareth Southgate shouldered the blame after his young England side’s Euro 2020 dream ended in all-too familiar penalty heartbreak in Sunday’s final against Italy.
Substitutes Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all failed from the spot as the Italians prevailed 3-2 on spot-kicks after a 1-1 draw at Wembley.
Italy missed two penalties themselves, as Jordan Pickford saved from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, but Saka’s crucial final strike was beaten away by Gianluigi Donnarumma.
It had all started so well for England, taking the lead inside two minutes through Luke Shaw but Italy hit back in the second half to force extra time through Leonardo Bonucci.
They’ve got to walk away from here heads held high.Gareth Southgate
Manager Southgate, who knows well the anguish of missing penalty after his own decisive miss at Euro 96, said: “I just said to them that we could have no recriminations. We win and lose together. Nobody’s is left out on their own and the calls for the penalties were mine – my decision, my decision to ask the players to take the penalties that they did.
“They’ve got to walk away from here heads held high. They’ve done more than any other team in the last 50 or so years, so in terms of the players they should be incredibly proud of what they’ve done.”
England captain Harry Kane offered words of encouragement to the three players who missed the penalties.
Kane, who along with Harry Maguire did score in the shoot-out, told the BBC: “Penalties are obviously are the worst thing in the world when you lose. It wasn’t our night but it’s been a fantastic tournament and we should be proud, hold our heads up high.
“Of course it’s going to hurt for a while but we are on the right rack and hopefully we can progress from this next year.
“Anyone can miss a penalty. We will learn and these boys will grow from it. It will give us more motivation to do well in the World Cup next year.”
Former England striker Alan Shearer felt Southgate was asking a lot of Sancho and Rashford to take penalties.
The pair only entered the action in the final minute of extra time.
“It’s a big ask to put players on with a minute to go and say ‘go and take a penalty’ when they’ve had no feel of the ball,” Shearer told the BBC.
Rio Ferdinand, also working as a TV pundit, said none of them should feel shame.
He said: “That’s happened for years, the last five, four, three minutes, players go on as takers.
“Marcus Rashford is a recognised taker. It happens. We look down the years, the biggest and best players miss penalties. Big players of the past… Baggio… they’ve missed penalties.”
On an additional sour note for England, the Football Association were forced to condemn a number of supporters as an “embarrassment” after forcing their way into the stadium without tickets.
Prior to the game, a horde of fans were seen breaching Wembley’s security cordons and rushing towards the entry gates.
Initially stadium authorities said none actually got as far as entering the arena itself but by half-time it was acknowledged “a small group of people” had gained access.
It marked the culmination of a raucous day in London in which thousands of fans had descended on the capital to party at various notable landmarks, and particularly in the Wembley area.
An FA spokesperson said: “We strongly condemn the behaviour of a group of people that forced their way into Wembley Stadium before the EURO 2020 final. This is entirely unacceptable.
“These people are an embarrassment to the England team and to all of the true fans who wanted to enjoy one of the most important matches in our history.”
The organisation also spoke out against the racist online abuse suffered by Rashford, Sancho and Saka following the defeat.
A spokesperson for the FA said: “The FA strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and is appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.
“We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team. We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible.”
Bonucci said Italy were spurred on by England fans insisting football was coming home.
The 34-year-old defender, who tapped in his side’s equaliser in the 67th minute, was happy to change a key word in the Three Lions’ anthem from home to Rome.
Sorry for them but actually the cup will be taking a nice flight to Rome.Leonardo Bonucci
“We heard it day-in, day-out, ever since Wednesday night, since the Denmark game, that the cup would be coming home to London,” Bonucci said.
“Sorry for them but actually the cup will be taking a nice flight to Rome and that way Italians all over the world can savour this competition.
“It is for everyone, we said from day one it was for them and for us.”
Ultimately it may not have been England’s night, but Shaw can take great satisfaction in joining an elite list of players from the country to have scored in a major final. Sir Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters are the only other players on it. His early goal was also a record-breaker for a Euro final, coming after just one minute and 57 seconds.