At scene of their finest hour, England can finally end 55 years of misery
London: All the years of hurt, England fans sing about it. All that sense of entitlement, rival fans are irritated by it.
After decades of embarrassment and moaning at tournaments, the English have a chance to finally back up the bravado — just listen to the team anthem, Football’s Coming Home — with a trophy.
England’s captain and scorer of the winning goal Harry Kane with coach Gareth Southgate.Credit:Getty
Beating Denmark on Wednesday broke through the semi-final obstacle at least in the Euros, prevailing 2-1 in extra time and avoiding the penalty shootouts that have proved to be the team’s nemesis through all those near-misses.
“What a brilliant moment for us,” England coach Gareth Southgate said on the field with fans still singing into the night at Wembley. Let’s savour this.”
No way were the England players missing out on the chance to lap up the acclaim of a crowd waiting for this healing moment, not only to reach a final again but to gather in such big numbers again as the pandemic-restricted capacity swelled to 66,000.
“It’s too late,” Southgate quipped discussing any attempt to curtail the exuberance. “We all let ourselves down on the pitch.”
The celebrations were a reflection of the bond the coach has forged between the national team and an English public that seemed disillusioned with the hubris and dreary performances before Southgate’s overhaul began in 2016.
Leading England to a final is proving cathartic for the coach who as a player missed the decisive penalty in the Euro ’96 semi-final penalty shootout against Germany. It was that tournament that saw the introduction of the England Three Lions song talking of “30 years of hurt.”
It’s never easy for England. Even when the path to the Euro 2020 semi-finals seemed smooth — even the 2-0 win over arch-rivals Germany — Southgate was prepared for difficulties against Denmark, especially after losing the 2018 World Cup semi-final to Croatia and being beaten in the 2019 Nations League last four by the Netherlands.
“I knew it might be a tortuous path,” Southgate said. “In the end it’s a wonderful evening for our fans, for our public and for our country.”
Southgate sees his role as more delivering for a nation, assuming leadership status beyond sport when he talked about unity during the divisive Brexit debate and now encourages the players to use their platforms to promote social causes and campaign against racism.
Southgate is more than just an orator, though. Only 1966 World Cup winner Alf Ramsey has been a more successful coach of England. The expensive imports at the start of the century — Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello — could get no further than quarter-finals. Instead, a manager whose only club job ended in 2009 with relegation from the Premier League with Middlesbrough has led England to a final.
For all his popular support — “Southgate you’re the one,” fans sing — he resists pandering to fans’ demands of selecting players. National hero Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United striker who has won acclaim for challenging the government, didn’t even come off the bench for the biggest game of his career.
He ignored calls to drop Raheem Sterling at the start of Euro 2020 and has been rewarded with three goals from the winger who also forced the own-goal that tied the game 1-all against Denmark.
Southgate stayed calm as England held on, only making one substitution when five were available to him in the 90 minutes before extra time.
“The opposition were constantly changing tactics,” Southgate said. “Sometimes it is bolder to do nothing … the risk is you don’t do anything, it goes against you but we were causing problems.”
Causing problems in a way that England have not done for decades.
“It’s one of the proudest moments in my life,” said captain Harry Kane, who netted the winner from a rebound after his penalty was saved. “But we haven’t won it yet, we’ve got one more to go.”
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