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Gareth Southgate’s Euro fortunes come full circle as England’s years of hurt near an end at Wembley

Adrian Rutherford


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Gareth Southgate's missed penalty cost England at Euro 96 but now, 26 years on, he has led them to the final of Euro 2020.

Gareth Southgate's missed penalty cost England at Euro 96 but now, 26 years on, he has led them to the final of Euro 2020.

Simon Kjaer scores an own goal

Simon Kjaer scores an own goal

Getty Images

Raheem Sterling goes down for penalty

Raheem Sterling goes down for penalty

Getty Images

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Gareth Southgate's missed penalty cost England at Euro 96 but now, 26 years on, he has led them to the final of Euro 2020.

In his darkest moments, when fate conspired against him on that damned night against Germany all those years ago, the image of a haunted Gareth Southgate being consoled on the Wembley turf would come to define another generation cursed by unfulfilled promise and broken dreams.

Here, on a momentous, never to be forgotten night at Wembley, football’s wheel of fortune turned full circle for Southgate.

For the first time in more than half a century, England will play in a major final. The dream lives on.

They defeated Denmark on a truly memorable night, an era-defining result that sweeps away decades of bitter heartache.

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David Seaman consoles Gareth Southgate after his penalty miss at Euro 96.

David Seaman consoles Gareth Southgate after his penalty miss at Euro 96.

David Seaman consoles Gareth Southgate after his penalty miss at Euro 96.

For Southgate, it was a moment of relief and joy, a maelstrom of emotions confronting him as he took another big step on the road to redemption. Eight days after laying the ghost of Germany to rest, here he was overcoming England’s semi-final hoodoo.

A class act, there was a consolation hug for the Denmark manager at the final whistle before warm embraces, first for his backroom staff, then his players.

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These are the nights that he dreamed of as a player back in 1996, before his missed penalty proved so costly.

That was then, this is now, and England will be back here on Sunday night, to face Italy for the right to be crowned Kings of Europe.

The journey to a first final since 1966 has been a well-trodden path of pain and punishment.

Every tournament since has ended in disappointment (most notably the semi-final defeats of 1990, 1996 and 2018), disaster (Euro 2016 or the 2014 World Cup) or, more usually, something in between.

Here, it was Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, two players who endured criticism at the outset of the tournament, that guided England home.

It seems inconceivable now to remember that there were calls for both to be dropped.

Yet it was Sterling’s drive and determination that forced Simon Kjaer into the own goal which drew them level after Mikkel Damsgaard’s free-kick had stunned Wembley.

And it was Kane with the decisive second, converting at the second attempt after his penalty had been saved.

Well, England and penalties has always been a complicated story.

For Denmark, it is the end of the journey, a sorrowful conclusion to an emotion-charged tournament.

At the end, their heartbroken players stood defeated and drained, watching England’s celebrations through eyes heavy with tears.

But they can take so much pride. Out of the tournament, yes, but not out of the hearts of fans everywhere.

The image of their players surrounding Christian Eriksen, a band of brothers protecting their stricken team-mate, will endure long after the pain of this defeat fades.

The highly partisan crowd that lapped up this special night had included the Duke of Cambridge and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, dressed in a ‘Boris 10’ England jersey, alongside his wife Carrie.

And somewhat appropriately, in front of the man from Number 10, it was the man at 10 for England who helped rescue them.

It was Sterling driving into the box, in search of Bukayo Saka’s cross, that forced Kjaer’s error for the equaliser. He is so important to this England side, and the team is so important to him.

Before the game he Tweeted a montage of the players united in front of Wembley. “Together as one”, he wrote, signing off ‘#BoyFromBrent’.

Sterling grew up in the shadow of the stadium, dreaming of nights like this, lightning up games on the biggest of stages. His intervention came when England were rattled, trailing to Damsgaard’s free-kick.

An attempt to play out from the back soon afterwards broke down, drawing Southgate to the sideline, urging players to calm down. This had been the last real unanswered question - how would they react to falling behind?

Rather well as it turned out, with Sterling rising to the challenge, forcing the equaliser.

In the second half, they seized the initiative. The Danes stood strong, until extra-time when Sterling drew a foul from Joakim Maehle, allowing Kane to win it - at the second attempt.

The final whistle brought scenes of true joy from a country emerging from the darkest of times. For their fans, the memories of this momentous night will never, ever die.

The crowd sang Three Lions again. All those years of hurt? They are now so close to ending.


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