The European football championships, which are to be staged in 2020 in a number of different countries, are to become so lucrative that some nations are willing to pay for the privilege of hosting them, according to a letter published on Wednesday. England, which won the tournament in 1966, has not hosted since, despite a recent bid to be chosen as hosts for the 2020 tournament.
The other day we were discussing the upcoming World Cup in Russia next summer. I said that I didn’t understand why England isn’t allowed to play with the same freedom as the rest of Europe. It’s not as if England’s national team doesn’t have the talent to succeed. I even argued that it was a shame that England had some of the best players in Europe but was never considered when it came to the World Cup.
England manager Gareth Southgate has abandoned his usual calm demeanour to admit he felt like his stomach had been ripped out after the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy at Wembley Stadium.
Southgate has already struggled as an England player: he missed a crucial penalty against Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final at Wembley, and as a coach in the World Cup semi-final against Croatia in Moscow three years ago.
It was more painful, closer to home. A missed opportunity to end a 55-year absence of a major trophy, a chance for Southgate to be the only man, along with 1966 World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey, to bring the nation such glory.
The failure after a wave of national euphoria only accentuated the feeling of bitter disappointment.
Southgate looked tense, tired and visibly downcast as he reflected on the pain at Wembley and looked ahead to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
First of all. Southgate’s record as England national coach is matched only by that of the legendary Ramsey, the silent master who won the World Cup in 1966.
There were two big tournaments with semi-finals and finals. Prosperity versus the past according to Ramsey.
Sportswriters Rio Ferdinand, Alan Shearer and Frank Lampard analyse Southgate’s tactics.
In England’s life before Southgate, two previous championships ended with relegation to the group stage in Brazil 2014, and then came perhaps the lowest point in the national team’s history when England were humiliatingly eliminated by Iceland in the round of 16 at Euro 2016.
And when Southgate made the final move to become England manager in November 2016, after managing the Under-21 team, the team and the Football Association descended into chaos after Sam Allardyce’s one-match reign.
That’s the context. This is where Southgate has taken England, and the promotion schedule and quality of players at his disposal bodes well for Qatar’s future and hopes.
The England manager looked as if he had been affected by the last few weeks and the latest defeat when he briefed the media the morning after last night, which was not surprising. He’s taken on so much pressure and responsibility, and protected and embraced his players so much, that he’s developed an unwavering loyalty in return.
If Southgate gets his act together, he could see his England team progress and look to Qatar.
Southgate, and he is expected to be no less, may not be blameless and after the defeat against Italy (3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw) there are some questions that need to be examined.
The tweet from former England striker and presenter Gary Lineker captures the essence of what Southgate needs to achieve if his team is to go from underdogs to winners.
Lineker, who, it should be noted, fully supported and praised Southgate’s work, wrote: I think England need to find a way to play more attacking in the future. More ball possession and more strikers. We have the offensive talent to scare teams, but right now we seem afraid to show that talent.
There were fatal similarities between the loss against Italy and the defeat against Croatia in Moscow: an early goal, but then a loss of rhythm, a retreat into the depths of the pitch, a conservatism, an inability to win possession.
I feel like my stomach has been ripped out – Southgate after Euro 2020 final defeat
Italy had 65 per cent of the ball at Wembley Stadium and when the nerves calmed after England’s first attack, they looked more experienced, as befits a team now unbeaten in 34 games.
Southgate was also cautious with his substitutions, not bringing in Jack Grealish until the 99th minute. England needed a player with the ball to at least regain the initiative in the 57th minute.
This has made him vulnerable to the old accusations of conservatism. The flip side is that his tried and tested methods have taken England to the final after more than 20,000 games.
And then there was the penalty tactic, where Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford came into the box with seconds to go, barely touched the ball and then both missed penalties.
Most questionable was the selection of Arsenal’s Bukayo Saca, a 19-year-old who came of age at Euro 2020 with a last-second penalty and knew that the hopes of an entire nation rested on his young shoulders.
Saka, who showed great courage by even taking matters into his own hands, saw his shot saved and many wondered why his senior colleagues were not playing. Taking penalties in training is not a copy of trying to bring one of England’s most defining moments in the last 55 years to a successful conclusion.
Southgate insisted it was up to him. Commendable, but a very risky strategy that failed miserably. In his defense, he got almost all of his challenges right before the final.
Risk is at the heart of how Southgate should take England forward and brings us back to Lineker’s tweet.
England has created a platform to take development to the next level. Now Southgate must decide what changes he will make to his team to ensure Sunday is the last of these inglorious failures.
Southgate has stuck to the principle of two supporting midfielders, but he might now consider, as Lineker suggests, letting England go.
England are in an ideal position with two top strikers in Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling. He must solve the problem of working with Manchester City’s irrepressible Phil Foden, Grealish’s creativity and Mason Mount’s maturity.
West Ham’s Declan Rice was an excellent English player before he was injured against Italy, and Saka has proven his talent and character. Calvin Phillips of Leeds United has made a successful transition from club football to international football.
With 21-year-old Sancho about to complete his £73million move from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United and last season’s Bundesliga team-mate Jude Bellingham, who at 18 is hugely talented, Southgate has plenty to cheer him on when the clouds part Monday morning.
England also have a good redemption story in the form of Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw. During his time at Old Trafford, he didn’t suffer from serious injuries or the chilly influence of Jose Mourinho. At Euro 2020 he was simply brilliant, presenting a complete package of defenders, idea men and attackers.
Southgate has earned enormous respect. He has a young, close-knit team that English fans love, as players and as individuals. Now they must go from appreciation to victory.
The England manager will come out of this embarrassing situation with cautious words, indicating that he does not want to be welcomed for too long. No one had guessed that he would be close to this day.
Now Southgate and his players face the challenge of making the most difficult leap of all – the final one that will end England’s years of misery.
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