“Never give me two” were the words of Tottenham’s Harry Kane, after the striker scored a last gasp spot kick to steal a point at Anfield some three years ago, having spurned a first penalty minutes before. Those words rang true again after England’s joint top scorer fired his 84th-minute spot kick comfortably clear of teammate Hugo Lloris’s crossbar, despite scoring from 12 yards just half an hour before. Complete shock was written all over the faces of the Englishmen behind the goal as their hearts sank. They would not have wanted anyone else stepping up for England. Joint top scorer for his country. Top scorer at the last World Cup. 12 Goals for Spurs in The Premier League already. An 84% success rate from 12 yards.
And yet… he still missed.
The kryptonite of England at tournaments struck us down with a sickening blow that keeps getting repeated time after time. West Germany in ’90. Germany again in ’96. Argentina in ’98. Portugal in ’04 and ’06. Italy in 2012. And the most recent and painful, losing on them in the European Championship final last summer to Italy at Wembley.
Are The Three Lions just cursed from 12 yards?Embed from Getty Images
Regardless of the bitter defeat to the French one thing must be said; England looked fantastic at another major tournament. The Three Lions played the reigning Champions off the park at times in the second half, with Bukayo Saka in particular looking unstoppable at times, apart from when he was repeatedly fouled of course. Kyle Walker also deserves to be singled out for praise, with the Manchester City fullback single-handedly keeping French Phenom Kylian Mbappe out of the game completely, with the tournament’s top scorer only having one off-target shot all game at 0.13 xG.Embed from Getty Images
Blaming a referee can be seen as somewhat cheap and not taking accountability for your sides loss, however Brazilian official Wilton Sampaio heavily affected the outcome of the game. Saka looked to be clumsily fouled by Dayot Upamecano in the build-up to Aurelian Tchouameni’s opener. Just minutes later Kane was also clumsily upended just inside the area, Upamecano again the culprit and Sampaio again waving play on.
While Sampaio’s performance certainly didn’t help the Three Lions it wasn’t the sole reason for their defeat- a player of Tchouameni’s quality should never be afforded the luxury to pick his corner and shoot from the edge of the area and let’s be honest Kane should have tucked his second penalty away. It was just one of those days in football for England.
Additionally, Gareth Southgate substitutions were somewhat questionable.
Is bringing off your most dangerous ball carrier in Bukayo Saka, for Raheem Sterling after 80 minutes really the answer? Especially when it is considered Sterling had only just returned from England after travelling home to comfort his family following a break-in at his home that meant he hasn’t trained for days? Probably not. Was leaving James Maddison, arguably England’s most creative player, on the bench when we desperately needed a goal the right idea? Again probably not.
Ultimately it was the build-up around Mbappe in the English media that personified why we exited so early. All we could think about was what was Mbappe going to do to us? How do we deal with Mbappe? In contrast, France didn’t care who we had, they played their game how they wanted to and ultimately rose up to beat us. Should Kyle Walker be starting over Trent Alexander Arnold? While he’s not been in the best of form, the Liverpool fullbacks quality going forward is undoubtedly world-class- he has the trophy cabinet to back that up. A nation with that winner’s mentality plays Trent.Embed from Getty Images
So… what now?
Whether or not Southgate stays in charge is remains to be seen with the former Middlesborough manager “conflicted”. There’s no doubt he has earned the right to this decision. He drank the poisoned chalice, and didn’t just survive, he thrived.
The squad is incredibly young and balanced .Jude Bellingham had a fantastic tournament and at 19 could easily be the heartbeat of this side for the next three to four World cups. The main thing is this squad pull in the same direction unified for the nation. Gone are the petty squabbles about club football of old, or how do we fit Scholes, Gerrard and Lampard Into a 4-4-2. Everyone pulls in the same direction and that can’t be underestimated.
The last three major tournaments were a stark contrast to the ones before them. England Looked good. England Won on penalties. England got to a final. England played with a smile on their faces. And most importantly, they got rid of the slump; I for one am incredibly excited for the European Championship in two years, whoever’s in charge and maybe, just maybe football comes home again.