England's wait goes on as Italy inflict more penalty shootout heartache 2 months ago

England's wait goes on as Italy inflict more penalty shootout heartache

A cruel end as England's wait for glory continues

And so, after all the build-up, after all the belief that this time, things really were different, England's dream of ending their long wait for major tournament glory came to another bitterly disappointing end - inevitably - via a penalty shootout.

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Gareth Southgate's side had made the perfect start against Italy. Not even two minutes had been played when Luke Shaw's controlled volley from Kieran Trippier's cross sent the majority of those in Wembley stadium into wild celebrations.

England's bright start faded gradually. After the half-hour mark, Italy - stunned at the early opener - gathered a measure of control. Federico Chiesa carried their most potent threat, drawing two saves from Jordan Henderson as half-time neared.

After the interval, Italy's grip on the game tightened. England's defence tiring, chances became to come regularly with Southgate and his players unable to stem the flow. The inevitable came after the hour-mark. An Italian head was first to a corner, and despite a Pickford save, the ball fell kindly for Leonardo Bonucci to sweep home the equaliser.

Italy continued to dominate for the rest of the half, though their attacking threat subsided when Chiesa was withdrawn through injury.

Into extra-time and on came Jack Grealish. His presence added a degree of composure to England's midfield. A stern tackle on him by Jorginho might, on another night, have seen Italy reduced to ten men.

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With both sides tiring, thoughts turned to penalty shootout. Southgate's last action was to bring on Marcus Rashford and soon-to-be Manchester United teammate, Jadon Sancho.

The first miss of the shootout was Italy's: Andrea Belotti denied by Pickford. Harry Maguire stepped up to press home the advantage. 2-1 England.

From there, it nearly all went Italy's way. After Bonucci drew them level, Rashford, having sent Gianluigi Donnarumma the wrong way, dragged his penalty onto the outside of the post. All square. Federico Bernardeschi scored, then Sancho saw his saved. The advantage had flipped in Italy's favour.

A brief respite came as Pickford saved Jorginho's spot-kick, but the joy was short-lived. Bukayo Saka needed to score to keep England alive. Donnarumma, again, was equal to it. Victory was Italy's.

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Inquests will no doubt begin here. Questions will be asked of Southgate. After getting all of his big calls right on the run to the final, the decision to bring on Sancho and Rashford at such a late stage is likely to be scrutinised.

This, though, is something that should not be dwelt upon. It was a cruel end to a summer that promised so much for an England side which, even in defeat, an entire nation can be immensely proud of. The wait goes on, but this - as much as it stings - is progress. And the sense that England - Southgate's England - will come again is impossible to ignore.