Euro 2020: England have lost out on the best chance they will ever have to win a tournament

Italy are European champions and the Azzurri fully deserve their title.

Italy beat England 3-2 on penalties after the Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium finished 1-1. The Azzurri were the best team in the tournament. They played the best football, they had an incredible team spirit and they won it the hard way, silencing a fervent home crowd in London.

When Roberto Mancini became Italy manager in 2018, the proud football nation had just missed out on qualification for the World Cup. The national team was at rock bottom. Three years later, Italy are European champions and unbeaten in 34 games. They play progressive, passing football, but retain the defensive bedrock their national teams have been famous for. Italy are worthy European champions.

Italy win Euro 2020.

For England, however, they have missed the best chance they will ever have to win a first international trophy since 1966. Italy were the best team at Euro 2020, and certainly the better team in the final, but that doesn’t change the fact that Gareth Southgate’s side missed out on a once in a generation chance to win an international tournament.

In the British sports media on Monday, the focus is mostly on the positives from the tournament, which is understandable. England reached their first major final for 55-years, they only conceded two goals in the whole tournament and only lost on penalties in the final. Southgate’s team went as far as they possibly could without winning the trophy. They also had the second youngest squad in Euro 2020. As such, logic dictates that England will be even better at the Qatar World Cup in 16 months time. This won’t be the last time they reach the later stages of a major tournament. Yet, England will never again have the advantages they had in Euro 2020.

Euro 2020: England’s home advantage.

Firstly, they had home advantage, with six of their seven games at Wembley. Of course, other teams have had home advantage in tournaments and not managed to win the trophy. England still had to win their matches.

However, England’s home advantage was even greater than the average tournament host as their opponents were flying in from different countries to play. And, in Denmark’s case, they played their previous match on a different continent. The Danes had a nine and a half hour flight to Baku for their quarter-final. As such, they travelled for almost a full day ahead of playing England in the semi-finals. Is it any wonder they were physically shattered in the match at Wembley?

England still needed an own goal and a controversial penalty decision to beat an exhausted side without their best player. They will not have home advantage at the Qatar World Cup, and they won’t come up against teams who made an 8,000-mile round trip a few days beforehand. So, without even analysing the final against Italy, it must be stated that England, ultimately, didn’t make their unique home advantage count.

Euro 2020: England’s kind draw.

England may also never again receive a draw as favourable. The average world ranking of the teams they faced before the final at Euro 2020 was 24. For Italy, it was 14.8. The highest-ranked team England faced in Euro 2020, before the final against Italy, was Denmark (10th). Will England ever receive such a favourable draw again?

They avoided all the heavyweight teams in the knockout stages, except for Germany, who were at the end of their cycle as a team. Italy, by comparison, beat Belgium, ranked number one in the world, and Spain, ranked sixth, to reach the final. When France reached the 2018 World Cup final, the average rank of the teams they faced was 13.5. The 32-team World Cup next year will be more difficult for England than the 24-team European Championships.

And, for the third tournament in succession, England surely won’t end up on the kind side of the draw again at the World Cup. And how far would they have got in Euro 2020 if they had ended up on the opposite side of the draw? Considering how they lost against Croatia in the World Cup semi-final in 2018 and against Italy in an eerily similar fashion in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday, England’s tournament success appears to be somewhat linked to avoiding strong teams for as long as possible.

For all the great work Southgate has done, for all the talent and humility of the players, for every marginal gain they have made, this fact will be tough to accept for England supporters, but it is inescapable.

England were leading Italy for most of the match.

Yet, away from kind draws and home advantage, the aspect that will be toughest to accept for England is that Southgate’s team were leading Italy for most of the match. They scored an early goal through Luke Shaw, had a fanatical home crowd cheering them on and the Italians were rattled for the opening 30 minutes. With the attacking talent at Southgate’s disposal, the opportunity was there to score a second goal and kill the final off.

Yet, after around 30 minutes, England almost stopped playing. Italy’s midfield took control and began to carve out some openings. By 60 minutes, England were hoofing the ball clear and it was coming straight back to them. By 70 minutes, Italy had equalised. Southgate got so many decisions right in Euro 2020, but he arguably wasn’t proactive enough with his changes.

England had the stronger bench but didn’t take advantage. Surely England would have benefited from Marcus Rashford coming on to affect the game rather than the penalty shootout? The same applies to Jadon Sancho.

England’s best chance to win a trophy.

Ultimately, however, England mostly needed someone to get on the ball in midfield and take of the game. Maybe that player was Jude Bellingham who was on the bench and has impressed in the latter stages of the Champions League last season. Or maybe he’s not ready yet. Either way, a midfielder who can control the tempo of the match is an absolute must if England are to take the next step and beat top teams.

To do this, simply playing the percentages and aiming for set pieces won’t be enough for England or Southgate. Like in Moscow in 2018 against Croatia, England lost the game as they were up against a superior midfield.

Yet, the margins are small. Southgate did a very impressive job. England gave their fans a month of brilliant memories. They reached the very cusp of victory and were unlucky to lose on penalties. The margins are very small at this level. On another day, they may have scored a second goal and lifted their first trophy since 1966. Southgate and his players can hold their heads high.

But, no matter what analysis you apply regarding the outcome of the final, the ultimate conclusion will be the same: England missed out on the best chance they will ever have to win a second international trophy.

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