England’s old vulnerability from the 12-yard-spot was to the fore again as they missed three consecutive penalties to hand Italy the trophy.
Southgate insisted that the buck stopped with him. Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and teenager Bukayo Saka, who saw ‘keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma save his decisive penalty, have all endured racist abuse on social media since the shootout, which Italy won 3-2. Only Harry Kane and Harry Maguire scored for England.
The English FA have since issued a statement condemning the “disgusting” online abuse suffered by the three players in particular. Southgate acknowledged the country was hurting after a tournament where they took another stride forward before falling at the final hurdle.
Their last major finals saw them reach the semi-final of the World Cup in Russia. The manager hoped that despite the latest disappointment there would be continued meaningful change in the relationship between players and supporters.
“I think we built strong bonds in Russia,” he said. “I think that continued through this tournament. Tonight the balloon is burst isn’t it? And the feelings round the country will be very empty. That’s hard for everyone to take.
“We wanted to give everyone one more night to continue the biggest party ever. We haven’t been able to do that. But I hope we’ve given everybody some incredible memories. The players, especially, should be very proud of what they have done.”
Southgate took full responsibility for the penalty-taker selection process, with many expressing surprise that a teenager, Saka, was picked to hit the all-important last penalty.
Sancho is only 21 and Rashford, although an experienced Manchester United player, just 23. None of them were alive when Southgate failed to score with a vital penalty at the same end of the same ground against Germany in the semi-final of Euro ’96. Many wondered back then why a centre-half was taking such a significant kick.
“The penalty takers are my call, we worked on them in training,” said Southgate. “Tonight it hasn’t gone for us but they were the best takers we had left on the pitch. We tried to get those players on the pitch, we already had to take a couple off during the game itself. It’s going to be heart-breaking for the boys but they’re not to blame for that. That’s my call as the coach."
He explained the science behind the selection of the players, who were all substitutes and relatively fresh. Prospective penalty taker Mason Mount was taken off in extra-time but replacement Jack Grealish was not in the five selected to try and beat Donnarumma, who saved two of the penalties and watched another, from Rashford, hit the post.
"We have tracked what they’ve done for their club through a long period of time and what they’ve shown in training as well,” Southgate said.
A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription. https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions