Updated: Jul 26
After another three days of self-isolation on the veranda watching the birds gliding past and the dolphins cavorting amongst the waves, it was the day of reckoning. Apart from the wildlife and weather, sport had done its best to fill the gap between the semi and the final, most importantly with a 3-2 win for Sunderland U23s at West Auckland and us signing Alex Pritchard – who has cost a fair bit of money in his time and who Harry Kane reckons is a canny turn. Welcome aboard, Alex. There’s been the tennis, which has apparently been canny leading up today’s men’s final, won by Djokovic against Berrettini – Italy one down on the day. Then there’s been the Tour de France, a mad sea of cyclists pelting up mountains and, in several cases, falling off the road and tumbling down the hillside. Mark Cavendish won his 34th stage, a record-equalling feat that the Euros managed to keep down the order of importance on the back pages. A shame, said ITV4’s Gary Imlach, but at least we were spared the sight of the PM in cycling gear. Unsee that - if you can.
Here’s a thought – last time England men’s team played in a major final, I was in a caravan overlooking the North Sea. Today I’m in a caravan overlooking the North Sea. It’s an omen, I tell ya!
A couple of hours ahead of kick-off, the sound of bumping gums echoed around Bishop as Southgate announced a team change but didn’t give Grealish a start. I think Southgate has shown he knows what he’s on about: like my mate young Paul Cameron said after the 2018 World Cup “we did better than expected! Let’s hope the team and management stay together and win Euros” and anybody who can put together a team that can string 53 (yes, fifty three) passes together in the latter stages of a game, as England did last time out, deserves respect. Let Chiellini and Bonucci clang into Kane to their hearts’ content, then let Sterling and Mount run past their aging legs (36 and 34 respectively, two of each per player, one right one left). Reverting to the shape that defeated Germany, he went for…
Walker Stones Maguire
Tripper Rice Phillips Shaw
Mount Kane Sterling
Is it 3-4-3, 5-2-2-1, 5-2-3, 3-4-2-1? It doesn’t matter how you write it down, they were the eleven tasked with getting England ahead and keeping us there against an Italy side that – well, you ‘ve heard the statistics and their record. Both very impressive. The party had started all over the country well before then, with Sunderland flags in evidence across the capital and around Wembley. I warmed up with a glass of Pink Slice, as it’s a) red with a white head, and b) very nice. Timmy Taylor, the Bay Hoss Sunday Club official beer of Euro 2020/21 in the fridge in readiness. 60,000 in the ground, thousands more in neighbouring bars, and millions around the country (and the world) glued to the telly, all nervous to a lesser or greater degree. I put my nerves down to something I ate as a flurry of dog-walkers skittered past the caravan window, getting their pooches exercised in the last half hour before the main event. The BBC punditry team openly declared their bias, and, as kick-off approached, turned from pundits to fans, with me fully expected one or more of them to knock a window out and lean out, twirling his shirt above his head. I know that’s what I would be doing.
The daftest of starts, with Maguire giving away a stupid corner, turned into the best with Maguire clearing, Kane taking a pass from Shaw to find the right wing, from where Trippier crossed, and Shaw arrived at the back post to smash it in on the half-volley, sweet as you like, to the keeper’s right. GERRRRRINNN! Under two minutes. MAGIC! The caravan nearly came off its moorings, and the dolphins in the bay clicked their appreciation of the bloke dancing wildly around in the picture window. Twenty passes in a move by England and the Italians arguing amongst themselves. Spell of clever, quick passing by Italians after the half hour when they almost threatened problems for England in the final third. Strong run and shot, just wide, by Chiesa preceded more terrific work by Shaw which almost set up or second – we were a real problem for Italy whenever we got it wide. The ref was letting an awful lot of things go that have been punished in other games in this tournament, with the trip on Rice after he’d carried the ball fifty yards a particular irritation. Four added minutes were announced, in which Stones got in a vital block and Pickers made a standard save as Italy showed great patience in their build-up.
Ahead at the break, and deservedly so with the best move of the game and despite a lot of Italian possession, which was defended well. Half time analysis revealed that some folks had stormed the gates and got in without tickets and were being sought by the authorities. There’s always a few.
No changes, and an early yellow got Barella for a nasty foul on Kane on halfway, then Sterling looked like he could have been pulled back as he beat his man in the box, but no according to the ref. Replays showed a little pull from each side – they’ve been given for less, but this ref needed a bit more than that. Almost immediately, Sterling was back defending – and conceding a free just off the he middle of the D. Which Insigne fired well wide, leaning back as he struck it. The Italians made a couple of changes, with Barella replaced by Christante and the appropriately-named (on the night) Immobile replaced by Berardi, just before Bonucci was booked.
Chiesa went wide to shoot and Pickers stood strong at his near post to save, with Rice carrying the loose ball away as the Italians got bodies into the England box. Chiesa was at it again, turning in the box to shoot low for the corner and bringing a cracking save out of Pickers down to his left and we went down the other end and won a corner. Take a breath lads, we’re good at these....and Stones got the header in, which was tipped over. Off we go again – but the Blues got to that one first,and kept the pressure up on our defence. On 66 Maguire produced a good header to concede a corner, but England didn’t defend it well, despite Pickers making another good save, and Bonucci was there to pole it home from close in. Bugger.
Trippier was off and Saka on, with screams of “Grealish” wafting up from Bishop, and the formation changed a wee bit but the Blues kept coming with a ball right over the top being volleyed over the top. Rice was off and Hendo on with 18 still to go, the West Ham man having probably used up all his energy and having nowt left in the tank. We needed to get hold of the ball and stop the Italians somehow, as it was getting relentless and our passing out of defence becoming desperate. After a long lie down, and after numerous viewings of the replay, I still can’t see why, Chiesa limped off for a bit – good news, as he was an absolute pest, and at last we came to life in the second half with the ball bouncing off Saka. Phillips was caught high, with a yellow for Insigne and a free that was launched into the box but cleared – and Shaw went for glory but hit the upper tier. Chiesa was eventually replaced by Bernardeschi with five to go. Play stopped, when, I assume, some arse got onto the pitch – the TV editors are so good these days you never get to see a streaker. Sterling, with three Blues chasing him into the box, ran out of room and couldn’t get it across, and slipped on his next run towards the box. Six added minutes – oh, come on England, do it for me. Do it for my mates, do it for your mates. Saka was pulled back out wide by Chiellini, so a yellow for the Italian and that was the end of normal time. To be fair, England had been on the back foot for the majority of the second half and had done really well to restrict the opposition to just the one goal.
Mount off for Grealish would be my choice – let’s see what the manager thinks. A hug for Kane from Chiellini, who simply loves a battle, and we were off with the only change being Insigne off and Belotti on. Verratti off, Locatelli on as we took a corner which was cleared only as far as Phillips, whose shot skidded a yard wide as Trippier helped Grealish get dressed. Off went Mount, on came Grealish and England sprang to life before he even touched the ball. Twenty minutes to save the world, or at least Europe, Jack – haway, dee something!
Another crucial intervention by Pickers kept things level just before an added minute to the first half was announced and Grealish was knocked over – we could have done with it being 70 yards further up the field, like, but Pickers took the free and Locatelli handled in front of Kane – but Shaw’s free was too loopy and we fouled anyway.
Fifteen to go. England got on top, with Grealish dancing around to set Sterling away and watch as Chiellini yet again got a toe in at the vital instance in in the box. We were back on top and Jorginho was lucky not to see at least a yellow when he hit Grealish on the knee very, very late. Red card for me – a very nasty challenge. Italy were relying more and more on the old warrior Chiellini, and we should really have been trying to make the most of his....I’m not sure what, as he always seemed fast enough, and was always in the right place. With a couple of minutes left, Bellingham was ready to come on – I’ve never seen him take a penalty, and at his tender age I wouldn’t fancy him taking one. Rashford was on for Hendo, Sancho for Walker, and Italy had a corner, and we cleared it as three added minutes were announced. Rashford filled in at right back – aye, honest – and we tried to get it forward but the Blues kept coming and we stood up to them... and it was over. Penalties, bloody penalties.
We all became instant (sort of) experts on both taking spot-kicks (score them) and saving (save them) penalties as social media came alive with idiots criticising Pickers for his performance tonight, despite him being one of England’s better players.
Berardi – sent Pickers the wrong way. 1-0
Belotti - Pickers down to his left and he saved it. Brilliant. 1-1
Maguire - high to keeper’s left, with keeper going the other way. 2-1
Bonucci - above Pickford’s dive to his right, the clever bugger. 2-2
Rashford – a stuttering run-up and stop, firing off the left hand post with the keeper going the wrong way 2-2
Bernardeschi - straight down the middle 3-2
Sancho – another stuttering run-up, and the keeper went the right way, down to his left to save. 3-2
Jorginho – hop, skip, and jump dispensed with tonight – Pickers down to his right and saved off the post. 3-2
Saka - not the best penalty, but far from the worst - saved down to the keeper’s left.
Bugger the stuttering run-up. Bugger it to all eternity. Just run up and hoof the bloody thing, will you? If any Sunderland players ever tries that shite I’ll personally run them out of town - football’s a simple game, made complicated by idiots, and those penalties were a perfect example of that. When a team puts so much in to a tournament and gets to the final, it’s a horrible – and utterly avoidable – way to lose a game. If your keeper saves two, you should win, end of story. The experts are saying that anyone can miss a penalty, but they’re less likely to miss if they take them properly, and they say we shouldn’t be pointing the finger – but I’ll point my finger. Don’t fanny about with penalties. Shoot from the spot, hit the target, and don’t give the keeper time to think. Don’t make their keeper a hero, because he wasn’t – he’s just a big bloke who’s been less than impressive in this tournament, so shoot for his head and he’ll more than likely be diving out of the way.
In terms of football, Italy probably deserved to win, as they prevented Kane from having a shot, or probably a touch in their box, but they didn’t get the requisite number of goals to do that, and England should have taken advantage of that situation by at least taking their penalties properly. As they say, penalty shoot-outs are a bit of a lottery – but they’re a lot less so if you take them properly, and we didn’t. Well done Italy and well done Mal, for correctly predicting that there would be 142 goals scored in the tournament...