What the papers say: England’s ultimate agony

Penalties were England’s downfall again as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed from the spot in a crushing Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy.

On an unforgettable occasion in front of almost 60,000 fans, Rashford rolled a tame shot against the post after a 1-1 draw after 120 minutes and Sancho and Saka saw player of the tournament Gianluigi Donnarumma save their efforts in a 3-2 shootout defeat.

Sky Sports takes a look at the morning newspapers after the night before…

With a front page of Gareth Southgate consoling Saka, The Telegraph’s Sam Wallace questioned why the responsibility was left on the shoulders of the inexperienced 19-year-old Arsenal player. He writes: “This was Bukayo Saka’s moment, and yet none of it – all the pain and longing riding in from the past – felt like his responsibility. He took the ball and settled down to try to resurrect the self-esteem of a football nation.

“Quite why it was him doing it at that moment was the greatest puzzle. England’s penalty takers were disintegrating around him and suddenly it was a teenager with the team’s fifth spot-kick, trying to keep the team in it and the dream alive. One young man standing in the way of the collective meltdown that was coming.”

Using the same picture of Saka’s despair on their front page, The Guardian‘s Barney Ronay writes “It was nearly complete, it was nearly so sweet. But it was, lest we forget, still sweet all the same…..There will be pain in defeat. But that sound at the end was a gentle hiss of applause. Down the years moments such as these have been met with a reflex splurge of blame, hurt, recrimination, tears, hurled plastic chairs.

“But this was something else. For the last four weeks, and beyond that back to the sun-drenched pantomime of Russia 2018, Southgate’s fine, likeable young team has been a tonic, his clarity, decency and willingness to speak across football an uplifting thing at a time of dissonance and weak leadership elsewhere. At times Southgate has seemed like the last sensible person left. This England iteration may or not go on to further glories from here. But when something is good it’s never gone, and this fine young group of footballers made a mark here that will not be lost. After a year and half of fear and isolation football has, for the last few weeks, provided a reminder that other things also exist, that there is also hope and warmth to be found, other stories to be written.”

Under the headline ‘Penalty curse denies England their dream’, The Times’ Matt Dickinson writes: “Agony or ecstasy? For a nation gripped by the biggest sporting drama in 55 years, it all came down, almost unbearably, to a penalty shoot-out and one last fateful kick of a ball.

“When an Italian goalkeeper dived to his left to secure the Euro 2020 trophy, England had lost their first tournament final since the 1966 World Cup, and the Gareth Southgate story, which had come so close to touching a beautiful glory, had the cruellest sort of Hollywood twist.”

The Daily Mail lead with the headline: ‘It all ends in tears” with Rob Draper writing: “Gareth Southgate seemed to have a sprung a tactical masterclass. And yet England’s control of the game was wrested from them by the sheer persistence of Roberto Mancini, who kept making subs until he got it right again. And at that end, the age-old hoodoo of penalties got England again. Just how did England allow themselves to lose from a winning position? Back to the bad old days: penalty woe England were meant to have buried their penalty curse. But this was a really poor penalty shoot-out from England. What looked like a bold strategy of holding back key penalty takers until the last minute of extra time will undoubtedly be questioned, after Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford both missed their kicks.

“Bukayo Saka at just 19 being asked to take the decisive kick but Southgate will have gone solely on who was performing best in training. Raheem Sterling has a mixed penalty record but he also has the experience of big occasions. The order will be debated for years.”

On a heartbreaking night, The Mirror and The Metro both reflect the Saka miss and the subsequent embrace with Southgate, while The Sun‘s Dave Kidd writes: “In the end it was a tale as old as time – England throwing it away, beaten by a better team.

“We’ve heard so much about Southgate, the urbane, decent, intelligent statesman – but this performance, this whole night, had little to do with any of those qualities.

“England relied on old-school qualities of grit and guts and graft and grind – but they were never quite enough.”

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