Gareth Southgate’s men got off to a dream start at the national stadium when Manchester United’s Luke Shaw gave them the lead after just one minute and 57 seconds – the fastest goal in a final in European Championships history.
Unfortunately, though, England couldn’t capitalise on their strong beginning, and the Italians soon found their feet in the contest. It took until the mid-way point of the second-half for Gli Azzurri to get themselves back on level terms, but when Leonardo Bonucci pounced to square the tie, it was hardly against the run of play.
ENGLAND LOSE ON PENALTIES! Italy 1-1 England (The Football Terrace)
The score remained unchanged after 90 minutes – and throughout a tense period of extra-time – meaning that the destination of the Euro 2020 trophy would be decided by spot-kicks.
After playing so well in seven games across just four weeks, a penalty shoot-out is a particularly cruel way for a tournament to be decided. In the end, it is inevitable that somebody will be the unlucky man who misses the deciding spot-kick for their country.
Regrettably, on Sunday evening, that misfortune fell the way of Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka.
England boss Southgate revealed after the game that he had handpicked the men who would step up for his side in the tournament deciding shoot-out. With that said, Saka still showed amazing heart to live up to the responsibility. The Italians were leading 3-2 at the time of his penalty – and the 19-year-old needed to score to keep England’s hopes alive.
Saka was in tears after his effort was repelled by Gianluigi Donnarumma to hand Italy the trophy, something that was especially hard to watch given how much he had given to the England cause during the competition. Although teammates Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho also failed to convert from the spot, Saka understandably felt the burden hardest, having missed the crucial penalty.
Of course, nobody should blame Saka for his miss. The incident is simply a part of the game of football. The winger received plenty of words of consolation on the pitch from his peers – and has also had a number of high-profile names rally around him on social media.
Saka’s Arsenal colleague Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was among the first to send a message of support to Saka.
“Proud of you my little bro. This will build your success, you will see,” wrote the 32-year-old on Instagram, per The Metro.
Arsenal themselves were also quick to back Saka with a post on their official Twitter account.
“Football can be so cruel. But for your personality. For your character. For your bravery… We’ll always be proud of you. And we can’t wait to have you back with us.”
Elsewhere, former England captain Steve Gerrard posted a photo of Saka to his Instagram, with the simple caption: “So brave, kid”.
Another ex-England international, Rio Ferdinand, echoed Gerrard’s sentiments on Twitter, addressing all three English players who missed spot kicks.
“All the boys who put themselves forward to take a pen we are proud of you – takes a form of bravery to step up in such pressurised situations. We salute you boys.”
Messages of support also came from those outside the game, with media personality (and Arsenal fan) Piers Morgan taking to social media to show his solidarity with the unfortunate trio.
“I admire every player who steps up & shows the balls to take a penalty in a game that important. Especially when they’re just 19, 21 & 23.
“Proud of you @BukayoSaka87, @Sanchooo10, @MarcusRashford – you missed, and we lost, but you’ve all got guts,” declared Morgan.
In view of the disgusting reports that have emerged this morning concerning racist abuse received by England players after last night’s defeat, it is good to see many positive messages on social media as well.
It is a shame that a minority have tried to ruin what has been a fabulous tournament for England, regardless of Sunday evening’s result.