Southgate steps up over penalty plan flop

·3-min read

It all ended in a familiar consoling embrace for Gareth Southgate. Wrapping his arms around Bukayo Saka, the England coach felt the teenager's anguish.

Having a decisive penalty saved in a European Championship match at Wembley Stadium can be such a lonely experience.

It still follows Southgate 25 years after his missed spot kick in the semi-finals against Germany.

Now he had to accept responsibility for Sunday's final loss to Italy, having selected Saka to take what would be the last kick of Euro 2020 - a kick saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

"He is not on his own," Southgate said. "We've got to be there to support him. We're got to be there to help him. But I'm sure he'll get a lot of love from the outside."

The focus will turn instead to Southgate's decision-making. Should he have asked a 19-year-old to step up for such a pressure-packed moment?

Raheem Sterling, a Premier League winner playing at his fourth tournament, wasn't even included among the five penalty takers before the shootout was over and Italy was going off to collect the trophy.

Southgate's strategy will be analysed for years to come in a nation still waiting for a first major title since the 1966 World Cup.

Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were brought in the 120th minute just in time to take penalties. Rashford had to play at right back with Kyle Walker sacrificed for the looming shootout.

Liverpool's Premier League and Champions League winner, Jordan Henderson, was deemed less suitable for a penalty than Sancho.

It was a big ask of Rashford and Sancho after spending most of the night sitting on the bench. They both missed penalties before Sancho as England lost 3-2 in the shootout.

"It's down to me," Southgate said. "I decided on the penalty takers based on what we've done in training. Nobody is on their own. That's my call and it totally rests on me."

Alan Shearer, who scored England's first penalty before Southgate's miss at Euro '96, doubted his former teammate's strategy.

"Mentally you have to get yourself right," Shearer said. "You've not kicked a ball for a few hours."

No one was faulting the players who missed but that didn't stop the grimly familiar spate of racially abusive messages being sent to Sancho, Rashford and Saka on social media. All three are Black.

"They were the best takers we had left on the pitch," Southgate said. "We win and lose together."

It was a defeat that came after England gained the perfect platform to surge to glory when Luke Shaw scored in the second minute.

But England also took the lead early in the 2018 World Cup semi-finals against Croatia after scoring in the fifth minute.

Just like that 2-1 loss three years ago, England failed to build on a position of strength.

For a squad hyped up for its attacking threats, England became timid in the search for a second goal.

Striker Harry Kane didn't even have a shot on target until he scored his penalty.

"At times we didn't keep the ball well enough," Southgate said. "That invited more pressure. It's something we have to be better at."

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