Why? Three Lions Euros 2020

July 17th, 2021 | Football

Why? That’s the first thought that pops into my head when I think about England’s EURO 2020 Final defeat to Italy. But bizarrely this thought of why isn’t in relation to anything that happened on the football pitch. I’m not thinking Why didn’t they score there?, Why did he do that?, Why did we not win? I’m thinking “Why is there still racism in society?

Football is a game of fine margins. In the group stage, what if Raheem Sterling hadn’t converted against Croatia? What if Scotland had been more clinical in their final third? Or what if Jack Grealish was well challenged before putting in that cross for Raheem Sterling to head in for 1-0 against the Czech Republic. Beyond the group stage there are more. Against Germany a tight onside call for England’s opener, Thomas Muller missing a one-on-one against Jordan Pickford and that same keeper making some brilliant saves to deny good German chances. Ukraine was a straightforward 4-0 win without any real need for fine margins to go the way of England. But again the fine margins become relevant against Denmark. The game is tied at 1-1 in extra time when Raheem Sterling wins a soft penalty for the three lions, which on another day may not have been given. Harry Kane saw a tame spot-kick saved and another day Schmeichel would have either gathered it, pushed it round the post, or pushed it far away from any danger. But the ball fell kindly into the path of Harry Kane, with the England captain converting and putting England 2-1 up. After the skipper’s goal Denmark gathered momentum and pushed England back. But an injury and not having any substitutions left meant the Danes were down to ten-men for the second-half of extra-time, allowing England to keep the ball better, having that numerical advantage, and seeing out the game 2-1 and advancing to the final of EURO 2020 at Wembley.

In the final against Italy, fine margins were again a relevant factor. England scored through Luke Shaw in only the second minute of the game and were the better side for most of the first half. The second half however went in favour of the Italians. They kept the ball well and made a couple of half-chances, but nothing really clear-cut. England defended well and despite sitting quite deep, looked relatively comfortable defending in open play. It took a goal mouth scramble from a set-piece to force an Italian equaliser, where again fine margins were at play. Verratti headed the ball goal bound from a corner, which was brilliantly turned onto the post by Jordan Pickford. Once the ball struck the inside of the post, it could have gone anywhere, but if fell perfectly into the path of Bonucci for him to score and even the game for the Italians. The game was even for the majority of the 120 minutes, but there were still key moments. Italy failed to build on their goal and lost momentum, and it was England who began to have their moments going forwards. While nothing clear-cut was created there were moments where if the final pass or decision was better, England may have had an opportunity to score. On another day, the Italians would have been down to ten men for the final seven minutes or so after a reckless stamp on Jack Grealish, courtesy of Jorginho wasn’t deemed clear and obvious by VAR.

After 120 minutes of relatively even and safe football the game went to penalties. This really is a game of fine margins. A few of the penalties converted were near impossible to save, so we will focus on the closer ones which were scored. Berardi’s opener was tame and if Jordan Pickford had guessed the right way, he probably would have saved it. Bernardeschi’s was straight down the middle and Jordan Pickford couldn’t quite get his foot there to deny Italy’s No.20.  With regards to the penalty kicks which weren’t converted, there are a couple to look at. Five penalties were missed in the shootout in total, three for England and two for Italy. Four of the five were on target with Marcus Rashford seeing his spot-kick strike the post. If that penalty kick is the other side of the post, England lead 3-2 in the shootout. And if the goalkeepers failed to guess the right way and save the other four on target penalties, none of which were bad, they all would have been scored.

My point is football is a game of fine margins, especially at the highest level. If certain things didn’t turn out a certain way, England and Italy may not have even been in a final. The two teams were brilliant throughout the tournament and a winner could only be determined by a penalty shootout.

It was England’s first final in 55 years. It was at Wembley with around 60,000 there live and around 35 million watching on television. It’s hard to imagine a situation with more pressure than this one. Those three lads had the guts to take one, knowing their home nation would feel elation if their spot kick was converted, or devastation should they see it saved.

Marcus Rashford, a 24-year-old who has had a difficult season with injury and didn’t make a single start in the tournament. Jadon Sancho, a 21-year-old who like Marcus hasn’t had a lot of minutes in the tournament and is experiencing his first tournament as a senior England international. Bukayo Saka, a 19-year-old who had the guts with only four caps to his name and in his first major tournament to step up and take the fifth penalty in the shootout, often the most important.

Marcus, Jadon and Bukayo. Three Men. Three Lions. Three lads who had the guts to step up and take a penalty in England’s first final in 55 years.

I struggle when I hear people criticising their penalty techniques. I’d say to those people, why aren’t you there? Why aren’t you in a position to take a penalty kick in a major European final for your country? It’s because these three lads are better than you when it comes to football. They have put in a lot of work, effort and time to become professional footballers. They have the talent, the guts and the mentality.

Anyone that says they shouldn’t be taking those penalties for England in that scenario isn’t really thinking it through. They were not just picked at random. All three would have felt comfortable taking one and were obviously better takers than others within the squad. If Marcus sends his the other side of the post, if Donnarumma dives the other way for Jadon and Bukayo’s penalty kicks, nobody says anything. They weren’t bad penalties, and I wouldn’t dare criticise anyone who has the guts to take a penalty of that magnitude.

Sometimes you see players who are performing well at club level struggle to adapt and deal with the pressure that comes with international games. The three of them may have missed a penalty, it happens, that’s part of football, but they’ve shown me and everyone else watching, they’re England players. They’ve got the guts, personality, mentality, ability and age to have brilliant careers with England, hopefully bringing home some silverware. There are people out there who see these three lads as villains. They will send racist comments, abuse, threats and horrible messages on social media. But look closer and you’ll see three lads who have now proven they have what it takes to be England players.

All I see when I look at Marcus, Jadon and Bukayo are three lions.


Please note: The football articles that feature on this site are being written by Jack Dixon as part of his work experience. He is a teenager and looking for work experience within the football industry. He is currently studying for his media and art A-levels