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Opinion

Oh well…at least it wasn’t Newcastle United

2 days ago
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The difference between Newcastle United and England?

When something really bad happens with Newcastle United, when I wake up next morning I’m in a really foul mood before I even consciously recall why that might be.

With Newcastle United, I would rewind time and time again, thinking if only they had done this and that differently, if only luck had meant the ball going the other side of the post.

With England, I am / was gutted at the final whistle / penalty kick (England 1 Italy 1 and then AET 2-3 on penalties), but when I woke up this morning it was a little while before the defeat to Italy came to mind.

The England football team are important but I think the reality is that simply, like most of you, I am a Newcastle United fan first, second, third, whatever…then an England fan / football fan.

It has been a great adventure this Euro 2020 tournament but it wasn’t to be the happy ending that the nation was holding its collective breath for.

I think fair to say that overall these Euros have been high on entertainment but possibly not that high on quality.

Reality is that this isn’t a great Italian team and I think the England teams of 1990 and 1996 would have comfortably beaten them.

As it happened, this current England team did come so close to doing it, but maybe the failure to be brave enough let them down. Not the players on the pitch, they gave it everything, more the tactics and team selection which screams safety first.

I understand people saying that these negative defensive tactics got England to the final and obviously no disputing that. However, if Gareth Southgate had been more positive with his team selections and tactics, I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t still have taken advantage of a very fortunate draw, plus having the advantage of playing six of their seven matches at Wembley.

It all started so well with the excellent Luke Shaw putting England ahead on two minutes, hopes of victory and a more attacking performance. Neither were to be.

In over two hours of football that followed, England only had one more effort on target. That early goal and willingness to get numbers forward, quickly fading after the opening stages into the more recognisable cautious approach.

The final match stats (via BBC Sport) showed England with just 34.4% possession to Italy’s 65.6%, only six shots to Italy’s nineteen, two on target to Italy’s six.

It was England’s lowest possession in a game at Wembley since they had 34.3% possession against Spain in November 2016.

For Harry Kane, the service and support to him was so poor, it was only the second time in his 61 England appearances that he didn’t have a shot or create a goalscoring chance in the entire game. The England striker played ok I thought but had to come back so deep to be able to get a touch of the ball, he played a key role in the build up to Shaw’s goal but never really looked like getting an opportunity to hurt the opposition after that.

The failure to really go for the win was baffling, especially as the game moved on.

Italy’s centre-backs are both excellent players but have a combined age of 70 and had both been booked.

Saka for Trippier (70 minutes) had been the only substitution in the 90 minutes, then Grealish finally got the last 20 minutes of extra time replacing Mount. A total mystery to me why Jack Grealish has been given so little time on the pitch, he’s no Gazza but he is by far England’s most creative player, second to him is Sancho, another who has barely featured due to the negative set-up.

With Italy tiring and especially those ageing slowing centre-backs who had already been booked, why not get pace on the pitch in extra time? Instead, bizarrely, Southgate did bring Rashford and Sancho on BUT not to try and get the winning goal, instead in the final seconds just so they could take penalties.

Like most of you, I dreaded penalties and surely England’s best (only?) chance to win in normal play. Going into this final, England had experienced eight penalty shootouts in Euros and World Cups, winning only two of them.

A 25% success rate and that was probably what I felt were our chances as they stepped up for this biggest shootout of all.

The game ending England 1 Italy 1 AET.

Ironically, I find Jordan Pickford emerging as my clear man of the match, Luke Shaw best of the outfield players. Pickford made some great saves and was very unlucky with the goal having made a great reflex stop, everybody’s favourite Mackem going on to make two excellent penalty saves as well.

However, the giant Donnarumma was only beaten twice in the shootout, with Saka, Rashford and Sancho the ones to fail to convert for England. Those ridiculous late substitutions spectacularly backfiring on Southgate as the Italians triumphed 3-2 on penalties.

We have seen the all too predictable social media attacks on the England trio who missed, the abuse is absolutely disgraceful and these people should be hunted down and properly punished. Plus, it is laughable to blame young players who have the bottle to step up and take penalties, not that I think there were any players to blame but if you had to say anybody could have done more, then you would have to look at the players, especially more experienced ones, who possibly made clear they weren’t taking a step forward and volunteering.

Anyway, only 16 months to wait before this ridiculous World Cup in Qatar, when I think we will get a very good guide as to whether this generation of England players are indeed the ones to end 55+ years of hurt.

As for Newcastle United, I have a feeling / dread of plenty more mornings to come in the near future, of waking up in a bad mood even before I remember what NUFC have done this time to mess with my life.

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