How do you describe the horror of a final like the one that just occurred? Turbulent? Riotous? Shemozzle? While I cannot deny the result, there were two moments when this England team made me believe. And then I fell into the same self torturous trap that all English fans fall for.
Forza Italia! Only the Italians can win like this. Sure maybe Croatia and Argentina, but Italian futbol was born for games like this. Games that are totally unmarketable to markets like the USA and Australia.
As I posted on facebook this morning while ruminating over the game at the gym, the losers are both England and futbol. Every complaint you have ever heard about ‘soccer’ came to life in this game. Diving, scragging, time wasting, negative play, and low scoring.
Culminating of course in the biggest sin of all, a penalty shootout. There was no other way to find a winner. It does boil the game down to the basics, ball, goal, keeper, striker. Though when you have gone through ninety minutes and extra time, it is far from a satisfactory conclusion.
You never win a penalty shootout, you only survive or lose it. Gareth Southgate knows this all to well. This time instead of being a player at the spot, he was the manager on the sideline. Both managers substituted players for the shootout. Both English substitutes failed.
Wind back to two minutes into the game and English fans were in raptures. Keane, Trippier, cross over the pack in front goal, half volleyed into the goal by Shaw. Scoring first was the big win for England. Unfortunately and eventually the Italian midfield gained the upper hand.
Still one goal up after half time and England did not have enough of the ball. Italy were in control of the ball and the game. Only keeper Pickford and the English defence held the eventual goal at bay. Which was born from chaos and desperation.
Italian corner, ball sent into the accretion of players. Header, deflection by Pickford valiantly blocking. The ball bounces off the post, then to Bonucci and goal. You would think that from here Italy could score again. They did not stop trying, but it did not happen.
Futbol Defence First
If you have played futbol you would have experienced this phenomenon before. It happens in most sports when defence is emphasised over attack. Even when controlling the play a shot on goal is only possible due to a defensive error or a well timed run.
Everyone tries their hardest but due to the inability to get free of the defensive structures in place nothing happens. Chances were there from both sides in the second half and through extra time. None of them ended up in the goal.
Of course then there is the fouls, the staging and the pitch invasion. The worst of all these was committed by the Italian captain, Chielline. About to be blitzed by the younger faster Saka, Chielline grabs a handful of Saka’s collar. Saka falls to the ground like a sack of spuds.
Was it a foul, yes. Yellow card, yes. Cynical, yes. Did it win the game? It did not help England so then perhaps yes. But as I said earlier you never win a penalty shootout, you only lose or survive it. Italy survived it.
McGuire Made Me Believe
Harry Kane and Harry McGuire were successful with power and placement. Like Beradi, they kept the commandments of taking a penalty. Pick a spot, shot, beat the keeper. After McGurie’s thunderbolt into the top right corner I was believing England could win.
Belotti’s shot was saved by Pickford. Bonucci was a bit on the nose with the stop start ,but it went in. Rashford attempted some trickery faked out Donnarumma but hit the post. There is nowhere to hide after failing that attempt.
Bernardeschi correctly chose the centre line while Pickford went to his right. Sancho picked his spot, shot, Donnarumma chose correctly leaping his huge frame to his left. Jorginho like Rashford went for a cute chip and Pickford tipped it into the post. Why do they try to be cute?
It was left to Saka. Saka is 19 years old. Normally Kane or a senior player would anchor the first five selected to shoot. What a weight of pressure. Saka did everything right, picked his spot, shot. Donarumma blocked it. Italy win.
I turn the television off and go to the gym. I cannot blame Saka. I did blame Rashford. I should not really blame Rashford. Shaw, Kane and McGuire made me believe. Its Italy, #neverforget. They are not beaten until you beat them.
The World Cup beckons for both teams. I cannot see England sacking Gareth Southgate. It would be stupid. Perhaps questions will be asked of the English system once more. Maybe this time national promise can reel in a few clubs to join in,
For Italy that back line of Bonucci and Chielline are not going anywhere soon. But the factory line of Italian defenders is well known. Donnarumma stamped himself as a world class keeper. Are there any better strikers available for Italy? Surely Immobile is not the best available.
I have to praise both keepers in this game. Pickford and Donnarumma were amazing. Both only conceded a single goal in regular time. They both blocked two penalties each. Expect to see both of them in goal for their nations in the World Cup.
As a tournament of futbol, this has been a good one. Not much controversy. As a product to promote the game to wider markets, I doubt it sold well. Personally it was the best two teams in the final. Yet, penalties always leave a bitter taste in the mouth of all but the winner.
So that is it. A big month of futbol. Many mornings spent watching games. Days spent ignoring news broadcasts and avoiding spoilers. Seeing the rise of Patrik Schick. The Danish fairy tale. Belgium’s sorry fate. England loosing on penalties. Italy survive to win. Euro 2021, farewell.
Phillip Hall has been too long in Melbourne to see AFL in the same light as those back in Fremantle. East Fremantle born and bred, he would love to see the Dockers back in the eight. But would settle for just beating West Coast twice a year.