Gianfranco Zola has claimed England boss Gareth Southgate was "too conservative too soon" in the Euro 2020 final and suffered the inevitable consequences.

Italy's penalty shoot-out victory over England at Wembley on Sunday has been followed by reports that Southgate could soon be knighted.

That is despite his team falling short when they had home advantage, failing to build on Luke Shaw's second-minute strike that was the earliest goal scored in a European Championship final.

Roberto Mancini's impressive Italy had 19 shots to England's six over the 120 minutes, while also enjoying 65.4 per cent of possession. The Azzurri finished with an expected goals score of 2.16 compared to England's meagre 0.55, underlining their dominance of the chances.

Leonardo Bonucci's second-half equaliser was followed by Italy edging a nervy battle on spot-kicks to land the trophy for the first time since 1968, and Zola sensed England retreated too quickly into their shell.

"Maybe Southgate was a bit too conservative because England boast important players at the highest level," Zola told Stats Perform.

"They were doubtlessly advantaged and having scored after just two minutes gave them further advantages. But especially in the second half, they started defending the goal cushion too early, defending so deep – as they say in England – enabling Italy to find their pace and plays and the equaliser was a natural consequence.

"So Southgate was too conservative too soon.

"Mancini on the other hand was so good. All the subs proved him right. When he subbed [Nicolo] Barella I was expecting more [Manuel] Locatelli than [Bryan] Cristante, but he got that right too as the team kept their pace high, producing quality."

 

Former Italy forward Zola, who won 35 caps for the Azzurri, was surprised by how little influence England's Mason Mount had on the final.

Mount has been impressive in the Premier League for Chelsea, the club where Zola was such a favourite in a seven-year spell from 1996 to 2003.

But in 99 minutes of action against Italy, before being substituted, Mount had only 36 touches of the ball and completed just 15 of 22 passes for a 68.2 per cent success rate. All of Italy's starting XI had a higher percentage than Mount achieved, with Federico Chiesa's 77.8 per cent their lowest mark.

Chiesa was far more threatening than Mount, who was given an advanced midfield role by Southgate, operating just behind Harry Kane but barely having any influence on the game.

In 54 games for Chelsea last season, across all competitions, Mount scored nine goals, had eight assists and created 109 chances. The 22-year-old had one assist in 464 minutes of action at the Euros, creating eight chances over the tournament.

"For sure after what he had shown in the Premier League, in the Champions League and even in the friendlies ahead of the Euros, he didn't shine," Zola said.

"He is young and the long season with Chelsea where he always played may have had an impact on his sub-par performance. Yet, he is a very skilful player and this experience will help him become better and stronger.

"As I am told, he is a level-headed kind of guy so this experience will help him for sure."

Phil Neville has labelled Gareth Southgate a "leader of great men" and "national treasure" following England's run to the Euro 2020 final.

Southgate led the Three Lions to their first major tournament final in 55 years, where they suffered penalty shoot-out heartbreak against Italy at Wembley.

It also represented England's best performance in the competition as they topped Group D before overcoming rivals Germany 2-0 in the round of 16.

They then put four past Ukraine in the quarter-finals, while Harry Kane's extra-time penalty secured a 2-1 win over Denmark in the last four.

Ex-England defender Neville, who guided England Women to the 2019 World Cup semi-finals, played alongside Southgate at Euro 96 as Terry Venables' side reached the semi-finals.

They also formed part of Kevin Keegan's squad that were knocked out in the group stages at Euro 2000.

And the Inter Miami head coach has hailed the achievements of his former team-mate, who is currently contracted until after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Fifty-four passes. In two minutes and 41 seconds of unbroken possession during the closing stages of their Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark, England moved to the brink of a 2-1 win in beautifully assured fashion with a 54-pass move. Over the course of the entire additional half hour, they completed 198 passes – more than the Three Lions managed in the entirety of the 1-0 Euro 2000 win over Germany.

Thirty-eight passes. Five days later in the final, Gareth Southgate's team could only manage 38 successful passes in the entire first half of extra time against Italy. That ticked up to 47 during the final 15 minutes of the 1-1 draw but still stood in stark contrast to the supreme example of modern, pro-active game management from the preceding midweek.

Southgate has overseen a period of unprecedented progress during his time in charge of international football's most maligned underachievers. A final for the first time since 1966, back-to-back semi-finals for the first time since 1968. As a major tournament force, England are stronger than they have been at any time over the past half a century by some distance.

But large chunks of Sunday's final defeat to Roberto Mancini's brilliant side felt like they had been transplanted from the bad old days, long before a penalty shoot-out concluded a tale of heartbreak. The lack of control and accompanying slow, sinking feeling could have belonged to any era.

By the final whistle, Italy had completed 820 passes to England's 426. As well as being common to England setbacks of yesteryear, there was also a repeated pattern from two of Southgate's previously most notable defeats in charge. Dictating the terms against elite opponents and being able to wrestle back control during moments of high stress represents something of a final frontier with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar a little over 16 months away.

Verratti and Jorginho torment England like pass masters Modric and De Jong

Leonardo Bonucci scrambled in Italy's equaliser after 67 minutes at Wembley, Luke Shaw having given England a second-minute lead.

When Southgate's team went down to a 2-1 semi-final defeat against Croatia at the 2018 World Cup, Kieran Trippier's free-kick put them ahead in the fifth minute before Ivan Perisic equalised in the 68th and Mario Mandzukic won it in extra time.

In between those two games, England faced the Netherlands in the semi-finals of the inaugural Nations League. Marcus Rashford put them ahead from the penalty spot – yes, he's normally excellent at those – before Matthijs de Ligt equalised in the 73rd minute and the Dutch pulled clear in the first additional period.

First-half leads cancelled out by 67th, 68th and 73rd-minute goals can, of course, just be a coincidence. But England gradually ceded control in each match, conceded and never truly reasserted themselves.

 

On Sunday, Italy had deep-lying playmaker Jorginho and the masterful Marco Verratti calling the tune, while two years earlier the Netherlands had Frenkie de Jong and in Moscow, Luka Modric was at the peak of his powers. Each time, there was a level of midfield expertise to which England had no sufficient answer.

Raw passing statistics can sometimes be misleading. If a central defender racks up more passes than his team-mates – as Bonucci did at Wembley – it does not mean they are the best passer on the field, more that they have a higher frequency of simple passes to make due to their position.

But in the heat of a midfield battle, a player being able to compile pass after pass suggests they might be dictating terms.

At the Luzhniki Stadium, Modric made 71 passes, slightly fewer than his colleagues in the Croatia engine room Marcelo Brozovic (87) and Ivan Rakitic (84). England's starting midfield three – admittedly not a trio who matched up entirely with Croatia in a positional sense – of Jordan Henderson, Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard managed 48, 47 and 38 respectively.

If Modric led an ensemble performance, De Jong conducted England all by himself in Guimaraes a year later. The Barcelona midfielder made 104 passes over the course of 120 minutes, with England's starting midfielders Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Ross Barkley managing 54, 24 and 56. Only Barkley saw the final whistle, while De Jong's passing accuracy of 96.2 per cent was almost identical to Rice (96.3) at nearly twice the output.

Paired with Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips, Rice had another tall task when taking on Jorginho and Verratti. Once again, it was a case of England chasing around after accomplished technicians.

Paris Saint-Germain's Verratti was in majestic form as he turned the contest in the Azzurri's favour. Of his 118 passes, 111 were successful and 72 came in the England half. Chelsea's Jorginho was similarly efficient with 94 out of 98 completed. Even allowing for Rice's 74th-minute substitution, the Opta statistics for himself (33 passes, 25 completed) and Phillips (39 passes, 30 completed) tell the story of their and England's night.

 

No passing, please, we're English

Despite the weekend sense of déjà vu, it is only fair to credit England with progress when coming up against technically superior midfields.

They gained a measure of revenge against Croatia, who they also beat en route to their Nations League date with the Netherlands, during the group stage and similarly shackled Germany – Toni Kroos, Leon Goretzka, Kai Havertz and all – in a 2-0 last-16 win.

As he did against Die Mannschaft, Southgate switched to a 3-4-3 for Italy and the formation initially overwhelmed Mancini's men, who were attacked repeatedly down their flanks.

This served to remove Italy's midfield superiority as a major factor in the contest until after half-time. Some have criticised Southgate for not being pro-active when the tide began to turn, failing to send on attacking threats such as Jadon Sancho and Jack Grealish to give the Azzurri new and different problems.

While those suggestions are valid, it is also fair to ponder whether England would simply have had fresh-legged spectators to the Verratti-Jorginho show. Studying data from the Premier League and across Europe's major divisions this season, it can be concluded that changing formation, funnelling play out wide and pressing judiciously are all work-arounds Southgate and his coaching team have developed for a problem to which they don't have a direct remedy.

 

In England's top flight in 2020-21, Manchester City's Rodri averaged the most passes per 90 minutes of midfielders to have made 20 or more appearances with 91.24. Next on the list were Chelsea's Mateo Kovacic (87.23), Liverpool's Thiago Alcantara (83.32) and Manchester United's Nemanja Matic (83.05), with Jorginho rounding out the top five on 79.68.

Considering players who featured at least 25 times in all competitions across the big five leagues, Verratti comes in second with a fairly absurd 96.86, from Sergio Busquets (94.63), Rodri and Kroos (88.37).

Miralem Pjanic's debut season at Barcelona was an utterly forgettable affair and one that could not be saved by him tiki-takaing himself to a standstill with 104.29 passes every 90 minutes. High passing numbers do not always mean a stand-out performer but illustrate a certain type of player – a type not readily available to Southgate.

Discounting Henderson's 92.85 per 90, given he played so often in 2020-21 at centre-back (meaning he was also ruled out of the Premier League rankings, having finished top at 95.69 from 21 outings), you have to scroll a decent way down this Europe-wide list to find some English representation.

The Premier League supplied three of last season's four European finalists and all of Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United boasted brilliant English players who were pivotal to their success. But in each case, overseas players were entrusted with the midfield duties that generally undo England.

Yet, in some respects, Qatar 2022 is further away than it might seem. If Euro 2020 had actually taken place in 2020, it is more likely Shaw, Kyle Walker and John Stones would have missed out on the squad rather than made up three-quarters of Southgate's first-choice defence. Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden, Reece James, Conor Coady, Jude Bellingham, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Phillips and Grealish had not made their international debuts this time last year.

A lot can change between then and now, so who might emerge as a king of control for Southgate?

 

A nudge from Winks? Skipp to it?

The highest ranked English midfielder on the top-five leagues list is Tottenham's Harry Winks, who averaged 71.47 passes every 90 minutes over the course of 28 appearances.

Only 15 of those were in the Premier League and nine were starts. Getting regular football, largely due to a succession of injury problems, has been a problem for the 25-year-old, who is now being linked with a move away from Spurs.

However, Southgate is a fan and is responsible for giving Winks all 10 of his England caps to date. A Shaw-style renaissance is certainly possible.

One factor that might cause him to seek pastures new is Oliver Skipp's return to Tottenham from a successful loan spell at Norwich City.

While helping the Canaries to promotion from the Championship, the 20-year-old averaged 58.52 passes per 90. Nowhere near the towering numbers posted by Europe's best but the third highest among midfielders to have played 30 or more times in a competition of a very different nature.

Skipp has represented England at under-21 level and the pathway from there to the seniors is clear in the Southgate era.

Winks was the only English midfielder to average above 70 passes per 90 on our European list, although Curtis Jones (68.04) – hoping for a more prominent role at Liverpool this season – and provisional Euros squad member James Ward-Prowse (64.75) are other options who might treat the ball with a little more TLC.

 

Can the men in possession be better in possession?

It might seem perverse to say England need to vastly improve their control in midfield, while claiming Rice and Phillips each had fine tournaments, but both statements are true.

Southgate is not averse to hard-nosed selection decisions but whatever the formation or opponent, the West Ham and Leeds favourites started each match in central midfield. Rice's 12 interceptions were only bettered by Jorginho (25) and N'Golo Kante (14), while the Italy lynchpin recovered possession 48 times – shading Phillips (45) and lying behind Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (51).

With the ball, they did not perform their deep-lying roles like Jorginho or De Jong – even allowing for some of Rice's ravishing first-half dribbles in the final – because they were not asked to. Which leads to the obvious question: could they do it?

Plenty of good judges certainly seem to hold Rice in that regard, as evidenced by persistent links to Chelsea and Manchester United. He averaged 47.7 passes per 90 minutes last season and, for all that they enjoyed a brilliant season under David Moyes, West Ham's average possession figure of 42.53 was the sixth lowest in the division.

To understand the full range of Rice's prowess and potential to be England's metronome, it might be necessary to view him on a weekly basis in a different setting.

The same need not be said for Phillips, who did not pick up his "Yorkshire Pirlo" nickname on account of interceptions or recoveries. Control is not always the primary aim of Marcelo Bielsa's high-intensity and ravenous pressing style, all whirring parts and thrills, but Phillips averaged 52.02 passes per 90 last term in the Premier League.

Again, this is not up there with the elite distributors in Europe, but it is a useful return at odds with his 39 passes over the course of 120 minutes versus Italy.

 

Bridging the gr-8 divide

At Leeds, Phillips will generally have more forward passing in closer proximity than those that were granted to him at Wembley on Sunday. This is where the configuration of Southgate's midfield is worth consideration.

It will be intriguing to see whether he returns to a 4-3-3 with two number eights as opposed to a 4-2-3-1 with two holders and a 10 when England resume World Cup qualifying in September.

The defeat to a De Jong-inspired Netherlands and a wild 5-3 Euros qualifying win over Kosovo later in 2019 were influential in the England boss choosing a more cautious approach for Euro 2020, shelving an expansive 4-3-3.

A run to the final without conceding a goal from open play means that decision cannot really be disputed. But perhaps this newfound defensive solidity means the shackles can be loosened once more, allowing more attack-minded players to operate centrally.

The control that eluded England in the matches discussed above was not simply as a result of metronomic passing. De Jong (16) was second only to Raheem Sterling (20) for dribbles completed at Euro 2020, while Verratti had three carries resulting in a chance. Five from Hojbjerg, Lorenzo Insigne and Gareth Bale topped the list in the competition.

Ability to carry the ball, both to ease pressure through linking the play along with creating chances, sounds like quite a good description of Foden. The Manchester City youngster's injury absence felt more regrettable as the final pressed on.

In pre-recorded introductions for ITV's Euro 2020 coverage, Foden described himself as a central midfielder. It is where he played the vast majority of his youth football for City and during most of his early first-team outings.

But in a 2020-21 campaign when it was hoped he would step forward as David Silva's playmaking replacement, he in fact filled the void left by Leroy Sane and turned in electrifying performances on the left wing.

 

"Phil just needs time to improve playing inside," Pep Guardiola said when discussing Foden's positional change earlier this year.

"When you play as a winger you have to play at one tempo and when you play inside you have to play in another one. When he gets this balance he will be 10 times more extraordinary as a player. It’s just a question of time."

Southgate will have an eye on that ticking clock and also how Mason Mount is used by another esteemed tactician. The Chelsea youngster has played as an eight for club and country but was used almost exclusively in the front three after Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge and plotted a path to Champions League glory.

There are few English players more elegant and effective when it comes to running with the ball at his feet than Grealish. In 2020-21, international team-mate Harry Maguire and Leeds full-back Luke Ayling were the only English players to have more than his 172 instances of carrying the ball towards goal for 10 metres or more. Mount (138) came seventh on that progressive carries list.

But, like Foden and Mount, most of Grealish's best recent work has come in the forward line. The likes of Verratti and De Jong are masters of their craft because they play in their position every week.

Still, dropping one of his twinkle-toed playmakers a touch deeper might become an irresistible work-around, especially if paired with a Henderson back to his talismanic best in central midfield for Liverpool. In 2019-20 he was the heartbeat of the side that won the Premier League, averaging 74.44 passes per 90 into the bargain. Suffering against Modric and Croatia before failing to stem the tide when short of match fitness versus Italy should not cloud perceptions of the 31-year-old's supreme qualities.

Then there is the tantalising prospect of Bellingham's next stage of development under the highly regarded Marco Rose at Borussia Dortmund. The 18-year-old could be frighteningly good by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around. If Southgate can hit upon a formula for midfield that can both dictate and create, we could be able to say the same for England.

Chris Waddle believes England will not get a better chance to win a major tournament following their Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy.

The Three Lions suffered penalty shoot-out heartbreak on Sunday as the Azzurri prevailed 3-2 on spot-kicks at Wembley.

It was an agonising defeat for Gareth Southgate, who had guided England to their first major final in 55 years – and first at the European Championship.

Southgate's side conceded just a single goaleon route to the showpiece, becoming the first nation to begin a Euros campaign with five successive clean sheets along the way.

However, a first trophy since the 1966 World Cup narrowly eluded the Three Lions after Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Buyako Saka all missed from 12 yards out.

Former England winger Waddle was part of Bobby Robson's side that reached the 1990 World Cup semi-finals, before losing to West Germany on penalties.

And the 60-year-old, who along with Stuart Pearce was unsuccessful from the spot in that defeat, thinks his nation will struggle for a better opportunity to end their long wait for major silverware.

Chris Waddle believes it is "embarrassing" that so much focus is put on England's failures in penalty shoot-outs.

England's hopes of ending their 55-year wait for a major trophy were dashed in Sunday's Euro 2020 final when Italy prevailed on spot-kicks at Wembley.

The Three Lions won their previous major tournament shoot-out against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup and then beat Switzerland by the same method at the Nations League Finals.

Manager Gareth Southgate, who famously missed from 12 yards in the Euro 96 semi-final against Germany, has worked hard to improve his team's processes.

But Marcus Rashford's shot against the post and Gianluigi Donnarumma's saves from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka handed England their seventh shoot-out defeat in nine at World Cups and European Championships. That is the worst record of any European nation to have been involved in three or more.

The first of those saw West Germany eliminate England at the 1990 World Cup after Waddle blazed his penalty over the crossbar.

But the former Newcastle United, Tottenham and Marseille winger says he was better for the experience and feels too much attention is paid to spot-kicks.

Kylian Mbappe and Alvaro Morata were other high-profile players to cost their sides in shoot-outs at Euro 2020, while only nine of the 17 attempts outside shoot-outs were converted.

"For me personally, when I missed mine, and I'm sure Stuart Pearce probably can say the same, we went on to be stronger players," Waddle told Stats Perform.

"I won three French titles, came back to England and had two cup finals with Sheffield Wednesday, could've won one. I won Footballer of the Year. Things went great.

"I was determined it wasn't going to play on my mind, I was determined that I would never crawl into a corner and hide away.

"I missed a pen. Who hasn't? Yeah, people might say the magnitude of the game obviously got more publicity than [it] normally would, but they've all missed.

"You can go through other players. I don't really know a player who's had a 100 per cent record at penalties.

"So, yeah, you can say this game is different from that game and that game, but overall, you can go through the greatest players in your mind and they've missed. You move on. It's life.

"It's a horrible way to lose a game. People say to me it's a pen, it's 12 yards out, you've got a free shot. It doesn't work like that.

"You can mis-hit it, you can hit it too well, you can get the wrong idea, the goalie guesses the right way.

"You know, we make so much [of it]. We're the only country in the world, by the way, who make such a thing about penalty kicks.

"When I was in France, if they go out, it's not even mentioned. It's like history. 'We shouldn't have been in that position, the game should have been decided in 120 minutes'. You've got 120 minutes to win a football match.

"I've seen a lot of teams lose and go out of tournaments to it; that's the end of it, you move on.

"And the more we talk about Saka, Sancho, Rashford, it's not helping them, it's not helping England, so move on.

"We know it's a common occurrence people do miss pens. We see it in the Premier League, we saw in this tournament: the first seven pens, four were missed. It happens.

"You know, we make such a deal of it. And it's embarrassing, really, I've got to say."

Sunday's match was the second example – after the 2006 World Cup loss to Portugal – of England failing with three penalties in a single shoot-out, and Southgate's decision to name Rashford, Sancho and Saka in his order has been questioned.

Outside of shoot-outs, Rashford had scored nine of 11 attempts for Manchester United and three of three for England. Sancho scored all three of his for Borussia Dortmund.

But they were introduced specifically for penalties with just moments remaining in extra time, while Saka, just 19, had never previously taken a senior spot-kick.

Waddle said: "It sort of backfired, didn't it?

"All Gareth can go off is he's experienced the same scenario as what happened to the players. In training there is no way you can compare.

"That's why people say to me, 'Did you practise in training in 1990?'. No, we didn't really. And people said we should have.

"Now they've practised probably more than any team in the competition. And they've lost.

"You can't sort of play that part of walking from the centre spot to the penalty spot to take a pen in a major competition where there's 60,000 there.

"And you remember you've got 30, 40, 50 million, maybe more around Europe and the world, watching this game. So, you just can't do it.

"The training ground is nowhere near a proper match in a proper penalty shoot-out. There's no comparison to a training ground.

"Now obviously Gareth saw them in the training; by the looks of it, probably Saka has never missed on the training ground.

"But it's a different proposition when you're walking there, the pressure's on and I can see why people said experienced players should've [gone ahead of Saka].

"Gareth said that was his call, he saw the penalty takers through the tournament practising and they were the ones who caught his eye. So, all he can go off is what he saw.

"And I don't think there's any way around [that]. People said it should have been [Jordan] Henderson and it should have been [Jack] Grealish or it should have been [John] Stones or whoever.

"You can only go with what you see on your eye, and if the player says yes. So, when he's gone, 'You, you, you', and they've gone, 'Yes, yes, yes', that's out of Gareth's hands then.

"And if any player was in any doubt, or slightly in doubt, he should have said it doesn't feel right. And somebody else I'm sure would have said, 'Yeah, I'll have it'.

"We'll learn from that; hopefully Gareth will learn from that. The players will. It's a horrible way to lose."

Gareth Southgate wants his England squad to heal together following the pain of losing the Euro 2020 final - and insisted abuse aimed towards any of his players is "unforgiveable".

England's hopes of glory at Wembley on Sunday were dashed by Italy in a penalty shoot-out, during which substitutes Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka failed to convert from the spot.

The trio were targets for racist online abuse in the aftermath to the match. The Football Association condemned such behaviour in a strongly worded statement, as well as calling on both the government and social media companies to take action to stop such incidents continuing to occur.

Speaking the morning after his team's heartbreaking defeat, England boss Southgate made clear his squad had been a "beacon of light" during the European Championship, helping unite the nation during their impressive run.

"I'm not totally across everything, but my first thoughts this morning are with the boys that have done so well for us," he said.

"The players have had such a great togetherness and spirit and brought our country together. They should be, and I think they are, incredibly proud of what they have done.

"For some of them to be abused is unforgivable. Some of it has come from abroad, we have been told this, but some of it is from this country.

"It's not what we stand for. We have been a beacon of light to bring people together and the national team stands for everybody. That togetherness has to continue.

"We felt the energy and positivity from the fans and I'm incredibly proud of that."

Southgate added: "We heal together as a team now, we are there for them [the players who missed penalties] and I know that 99 per cent of the public will be as well, because they will appreciate how well they have played."

 

England seized an early lead thanks to Luke Shaw's first international goal after less than two minutes but were pegged back by Leonardo Bonucci's second-half equaliser, forcing extra time.

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford saved penalties from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho, yet Saka saw his attempt - England's fifth - turned away by Gianluigi Donnarumma, meaning Italy prevailed 3-2 at the end of an dramatic shoot-out.

While his focus will have to quickly switch to securing qualification for next year's World Cup in Qatar, Southgate admitted he is in need of a break.

Asked about reports he could be offered a new contract, Southgate replied: "I don't think now is an appropriate time to be thinking about it.

"We have to qualify for Qatar. I need time to go away and reflect on Euro 2020. I need a rest.

"Its an amazing experience to lead your country in these tournaments, but it takes a toll. I don't want to commit to anything longer than I should. It's not a financial thing.

"I don't want to outstay my welcome. But, as I sit here today, I would be wanting to take the team to Qatar."

Gareth Southgate acknowledged it was a "gamble" to bring on substitutes Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho to take penalties in the Euro 2020 final.

England suffered a 3-2 defeat to Italy in the shootout, after the match finished 1-1, with Rashford striking the post before Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saved from Sancho and Bukayo Saka.

England have won just 22 per cent (two out of nine) of their major tournament shootouts, the lowest ratio of any European nation to have been involved in three or more.

When asked if Rashford and Sancho, both brought off the bench in extra-time a few minutes before the shootout, might have been "cold", Southgate said the decision was one fraught with danger.

"That is the risk you run but they have been the best in the lead in, and to throw all those attacking players on you have to do it late," he told ITV.

"You have got to have balance to the team. You can't just throw on attacking players earlier, or you lose your shape and don't have a foothold in the game.

"It was a gamble but if we gambled earlier in the game, we maybe lose the game in extra time. I chose the guys to take the kicks."

Southgate revealed England's order for the penalty kicks had already been decided in advance of the Wembley final, and said the decision to let Saka take one was his alone.

He added: "It's my decision to give him that penalty so that is totally my responsibility. Not his. 

"The same with Marcus or Jadon. We work together, worked through them in training, that was the order that we came to.

"I said afterwards that nobody was on their own in that situation [missing a penalty]. 

"We decided to make the changes late in the game and we lose together as a team. The players have been tight throughout and that's how it will stay."

Southgate said he was proud of England's overall display in the tournament although felt they were poor in possession in the final.

"In the end we were not quite able to see the game through in normal time and Italy showed the outstanding team they are with 30 plus games unbeaten," he explained.

"Our players have to be proud of themselves. Every one of them has been exceptional. First time we have to a final and we are very disappointed not go on a step further.

"Italy have some outstanding players but we didn't keep the ball well enough in that initial period in the second half. We changed the shape to get more of a grip. It was a lack of composure in possession which turned the game."

England will now switch their focus to next year's World Cup in Qatar, although Southgate needs time to let the wounds heal from this defeat.

"It's hard to reflect at this moment because the disappointment is enormous for all us," he said.

"The players have done us proud. The way the nation have got behind us. I know tonight has burst the balloon. But I hope everyone remembers what this group has given them.

"We have given everyone some fantastic nights and we wanted to give them one more and came close to having done that. It's hard for me to put that into words at the moment.

"At this moment it is hard to look that far ahead. This was a wonderful opportunity and we need let that sink in before thinking about Qatar."

Penalties. It just had to be penalties.

Having grown immeasurably as a football manager and a statesmanlike public figure over recent years, Gareth Southgate might one day consider himself a specialist in exorcisms.

Demons have been slayed from 12 yards and now here are another legion of them to haunt poor Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – the latter remarkably taking the first penalty of his career.

English football, 55 years of hurt and counting, allows these events to stick to the collective consciousness.

When England beat Colombia in a 2018 World Cup shoot-out, Southgate let out a guttural roar; a cathartic celebration to banish memories of his decisive miss against Germany in the semi-final of Euro 96.

Except they needed snuffing out all over again when Germany arrived back at Wembley in the last 16. Then there was all the tension of a Wembley semi-final against Denmark. England's demons arrive in Whac-A-Mole form.

But there was another more subtle and ever-lurking tormentor for Southgate's excellent team as they came agonisingly close to immortality.

 

Dream opening scripted by Southgate

The absence and then avalanche of pre-penalties substitutions brought understandable questions over Southgate's decision-making, but the opening to the match felt like Pinewood Studios transplanted across town – a perfectly scripted demonstration of a coach's every call coming up trumps.

Luke Shaw's quickest goal in any European Championship final gave emphatic answers to all of the pre-match quandaries over Southgate's tactical plan for Italy, effectively ticking off all the of the key plot points like a neatly crafted screenplay.

How was Harry Kane going to deal with the formidable central defensive duo of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci? Would he be effective dropping deep to occupy the Azzurri's slick midfield operators? Before the England captain's tournament took off with that late goal in the last-16 win over Germany, his lack of penalty area involvement became a source of concern and conjecture.

 

He came into his own half to receive a Shaw pass, turned smoothly into space and released Kieran Trippier – opening up the whole pitch and a field of dreams.

Yes, Trippier. The experienced Atletico Madrid defender was introduced in place of livewire Arsenal teenager Saka as Southgate reverted to a 3-4-3. Would that end up being an overly defensive note sounded by the manager, leaving Italy's centre-halves untroubled and undercooked left-back Emerson without examination?

Well, here were England flying at their opponents in the second minute. Kyle Walker, the right-sided centre-back, clattered past Shaw on the overlap like a freight train full of Gatorade. Trippier measured his cross to perfection.

But with this defensive formation and Kane as the deep-lying forward, paying an audacious tribute to his opponents by turning in a fabulous Francesco Totti impersonation throughout he first half, would England have enough players attacking balls into the box? Oh, there was Shaw, up from left wing-back and measuring a superb finish to spark pandemonium in the stands.

Azzurri's pass masters tame Three Lions

Two hours later, the mood music was sharply different as Southgate's men headed into extra time somewhat bedraggled.

Roberto Mancini's decision to remove Ciro Immobile after the centre-forward did 55 minutes of great work in the name of nominative determinism was key. With the electrifying Federico Chiesa leading an attack without a fixed focal point, Italy were a team transformed.

The Juventus forward sent a blistering left-footed drive just wide in a rare moment of first-half defiance from the Azzurri and he remained their main threat. Behind him, Jorginho and Marco Verratti were enjoying Wembley's green expanses amid wearying legs. During the first half, they looked more like tourists trying to shove their way through the impromptu pre-match revelry in Leicester Square.

 

Italy's equaliser came courtesy of the artisans rather than the artists – Chiellini manhandling John Stones at a corner and Bonucci on hand to scramble in the rebound after Jordan Pickford saved from Verratti's diving header.

Southgate changed shape after that leveller, introducing Saka for Trippier. Jordan Henderson followed in place of Declan Rice, whose influence had declined sharply along with that of Mason Mount.

Mancini's in-game intuition, honed through seasons of elite club management, proved more decisive in terms of changing a story told by a final pass count of 823-424 in Italy's favour. Before his thunderous penalty, Harry Maguire made the most England passes with 66. Five Italy players attempted more, with Verratti and Jorginho clocking 119 and 99 respectively.

As Italy's battery of playmakers shuffled into the ascendancy, Phil Foden's injury absence felt cruel for Southgate. For all the exciting talent in his squad, for all England's improvement in terms of game management and tactical flexibility, faced with a technically superior midfield there were problems beyond the footballing capabilities of the men in white.

It felt like Mount remained on the field too long, but Southgate does not have a Verratti or a Jorginho up his sleeve, however effective Rice and Kalvin Phillips have proved over the past month.

 

The world-leading academy system in England and the manner in which it feeds St George's Park suggests those players will come.

Imagine, even five years ago, an attacking midfielder such as Leicester City's James Maddison not being in the England squad because the likes of Jack Grealish, Foden and Mount already are. Talent will continue to bloom. Just think how good Jude Bellingham will be by Qatar 2022.

Midfielders to dictate alongside those who create are the next requirement if a team taking giant strides in the right direction are to make the final step towards glory and away from those gruesome trials by combat from 12 yards.

Kieran Trippier returns as Gareth Southgate makes one change to his England starting line-up to face Italy in the final of Euro 2020.

The Atletico Madrid defender takes the place of forward Bukayo Saka as the Three Lions return to the back three that saw them through against Germany in the last 16, while Phil Foden has missed out of the squad altogether due to injury – the Manchester City star having missed training on Saturday due to an unspecified injury.

The change opens up a place in a likely front three for Mason Mount, who previously operated in central midfield in wins over Ukraine and Denmark.

England are otherwise unaltered, with four-goal forward Harry Kane – now the country's joint-leading goalscorer at major tournaments – leading the line and a familiar midfield axis of Kalvin Phillips and Declan Rice named.

As for Italy, they name an unchanged starting XI from their penalty shootout win over Spain in the semi-final.

Federico Chiesa starts on the right flank of a 4-3-3 formation despite pre-match suggestions that he might miss out through injury.

And Roberto Mancini's men once again count on defensive warriors Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci as they earn their 112th and 109th caps respectively.

England: Pickford, Trippier, Walker, Maguire, Stones, Shaw, Phillips, Rice, Mount, Kane, Sterling.

Italy: Donnarumma, Di Lorenzo, Bonucci, Chiellini, Emerson, Barella, Jorginho, Verratti, Chiesa, Immobile, Insigne.

Gareth Southgate has offered heartfelt thanks to England fans for their support ahead of a first major tournament final appearance in 55 years.

The Three Lions have played five of their six games en route to the showpiece fixture of Euro 2020 in front of a partisan crowd at Wembley Stadium.

And they will contest a sixth at their home ground on Sunday when they take on Italy aiming to win a first piece of silverware since the 1966 World Cup.

Ahead of that showdown, Southgate has placed on his record his appreciation for the backing he and his team have received both from the stands and further afield.

He said: "I just wanted to take the time to say thank you to everybody for the incredible support we've received throughout this tournament. 

"We hope that we've represented you in the right way, we hope that you've enjoyed watching us play. 

"I'm very grateful to all of the players and in the incredible staff I've got with me that we've been able to get to our first final for 55 years, but of course we know now we've got to deliver for you. 

"We'll be doing everything we can, your support and energy has given us a huge lift and I know it will on Sunday."

Gary Neville has urged the FA to tie down their "greatest asset" Gareth Southgate ahead of England's first appearance in a major tournament final in 55 years.

The Three Lions are out to win the European Championship for the first time in their history on Sunday when they face Italy at Wembley Stadium.

Win or lose, this run to the final is the latest mark of the progress made by international football's perennial underachievers, who also made it to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup under Southgate.

And Neville believes English football chiefs must do all they can to keep the man who has masterminded these recent successes in charge for as long as possible.

He told Sky Sports: "I said it four or five weeks ago that I thought that Gareth Southgate is our greatest asset and I'm still absolutely of that opinion. 

"There is nobody in this country that knows international football better than Gareth Southgate in terms of tournament football and that's got the ability to coach. 

"Many of us have been to many tournaments, but he's then been in the U21s.

"He's been in the system, he knows exactly what it's like to coach in the system of the FA, understands the politics and the way in which the FA works and accepts that and [doesn't] make it a problem, which many managers in the past have. 

"All those things that are difficult to contend with, the media, the handling of players, the club v country stuff - he's seen all that before in his playing career and U21s career and all those things that he's seen happen wrong before he's been able to put right through his experiences as England manager and that's why he is our greatest asset. 

"We should try and keep him for as long as we possibly can, that's not to say we'll win [against Italy], that's not to say we'll win in the next tournament or do well in the next two tournaments but I genuinely don't believe there is anyone who has got the experience, knowledge and capability to perform for England like he has."

 

A raucous atmosphere is sure to greet England as they step out onto the Wembley turf aiming to secure their first trophy since winning the 1966 World Cup at the same stadium.

But Neville expects the players to be better prepared for the emotion of the occasion after experiencing similar during their semi-final win over Denmark.

He continued: "It'd be interesting to know whether the pressure impacted the players in the first half an hour of the game against Denmark because the first 20 minutes after kick-off - it was absolutely mesmerising, spine-tingling to the point where it had an impact upon us [in the stadium].

"No England player would have seen that since Euro '96 so I can't believe that didn't have an impact on them in the first half an hour.

"They were in a special place on Wednesday but I think because of that they will be used to it and will be better prepared for what's going to happen [in the final].

"Germany was good but Wednesday was absolutely off the scale against Denmark. It was brilliant."

 

Gareth Southgate could spring a surprise by starting Jadon Sancho instead of Bukayo Saka for England in the Euro 2020 final against Italy.

That is the view of former England defender Gary Neville, who believes the spot on the right wing that was filled by Saka in the semi-final win over Denmark is the only position up for grabs.

Neville would have been tempted to play Marcus Rashford if the Manchester United forward had been in better form.

Instead he believes another soon-to-be United player Sancho, who started the quarter-final against Ukraine in Saka's absence, could be the man who gets the nod if 19-year-old is indeed left out.

Saka has had an impressive tournament for England and Neville acknowledges it could be an "unpopular" decision.

He feels it would be easier for Southgate to pick an unchanged side and then take Saka off in the second half as he did in the extra-time triumph in the last four.

The Arsenal youngster has been put forward for many press interviews prior to the Italy clash, but Neville thinks that could be a red herring.

 

"There is only one possible change and that's Saka," he said to ITV Sport.

"I know that would possibly be an unpopular thing to say.

"He may say [to Saka] go for 60 minutes and we'll get you off - which he's done before - he may say that and go with the same team. 

"But I just wonder whether he might bring someone else in.

"Actually putting him up for interviews before the final makes me think he might not be playing.

"If Rashford was in form I'd go Rashford-Sterling just to get in behind [Giorgio] Chiellini and [Leonardo] Bonucci but Rashford hasn't been in the greatest of form. 

"I would think it would be Sancho if Saka doesn't play.

"I think you have to play two of the quicker ones, so it would be Saka, Sancho or Rashford with Sterling on the other side."

 

Phil Foden missed training on Saturday with a knock and the Manchester City star is the only injury doubt for England.

While he called the development "a blow", Neville believes England can cope due to their strength in depth, particularly in the attacking positions.

He told Sky Sports: "It would be a blow for Phil Foden personally and for the team because he is an important part of those six or seven forward players that we have that float around Harry Kane.

"One of the great strengths in this tournament is that you can start Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling and bring on Jack Grealish or Jadon Sancho or Phil Foden and not really drop in quality that much.

"We have got an exceptional amount of talent in those positions.

"We are better in the latter half of games, the danger against Italy is that if we do start badly in that first half an hour then the Italians will punish us more than Denmark did.

"You don’t want to be behind to a team with the defensive record that they have.

"It's important that Foden is fit for him personally but if not then an injury is an injury, it's important that we have a lot of players who are fit in those positions going into the last 20 minutes of games which has become critical for us."

Gareth Southgate insists Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips will not be fazed about going up against Italy's much-lauded midfield, pointing out they coped well despite their relative inexperience against two modern greats in Luka Modric and Toni Kroos.

Italy have enjoyed almost universal acclaim for their performances at Euro 2020, with their run to Sunday's final seeing them extend their unbeaten run to 33 matches, a national record.

A lot of the praise has been centred around their midfield trio of Nicolo Barella, Jorginho and Marco Verratti, the latter two in particular.

Jorginho carries out an important function as their deep-lying playmaker, and his influence is highlighted by the fact he has completed more passes (390) and had more touches of the ball (503) than any of his team-mates, while his 38 instances of regaining possession and instigating passing sequences is 10 more than anyone else in the tournament.

As for Verratti, the Paris Saint-Germain star's 12 key passes is bettered by only Kevin De Bruyne and he leads the way in terms of involvements in open-play sequences that end in a shot, averaging 9.2 every 90 minutes (players with at least 165 mins played), which paints a picture of not only great creativity but also significant impact generally in Italy's build-up play.

 

Yet Italy struggled in that area against Spain and were subsequently overrun at times, their 0.8 xG to La Roja's 1.5 proof they were somewhat fortunate to get past Luis Enrique's side via a penalty shoot-out.

As such, Spain essentially highlighted that to dull Italy's strengths they need to win the midfield battle, and Southgate feels his players in that area are up to the challenge.

"I think when you're coaching a team, you watch everything and you have to decide the most important information for players, not flood them with too much, adapt the game to our strengths and highlight potential weaknesses," Southgate told reporters ahead of England's first major final in 55 years.

 

"Of course there are fantastic players all through the Italy team, they've a good tactical plan, an experienced coach and an amazing record over last 30 games or so, we are very aware of that.

"But players like our two midfielders [Rice and Phillips], they've played beyond their experience in this tournament and they've already played against Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, so they've had to adapt to these midfield players with great European experience and they've done that brilliantly.

"We're different, we have our own strengths, own style of play, which is geared towards the strengths of our players.

"That's the beauty of football, every team has different strengths, we've tried to play to ours and adapt to our strengths and we need to do the same [on Sunday]."

Another Italian double act that has been showered with praise is centre-back pairing Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, whose combined 33 European Championship appearances is four more than England's entire back five that started the semi-final against Denmark.

While they may not possess the same ball-carrying ease as England's Harry Maguire and John Stones, Chiellini remains a formidable scrapper even at the age of 36, with his 71.4 duels success bettered by only six defenders (involved in 10 or more duels). And Bonucci continues to read the game well, his haul of 12 interceptions being the most of all defenders at Euro 2020.

Together, there is not much they do not possess, and Harry Kane is relishing the chance to go up against them.

"They're two amazing defenders with great experience over their careers of big matches," Kane said.

"I've been fortunate to play against them before, and as a striker I want to play against the best and they're definitely up there."

 

Kane himself has had an intriguing tournament given he was widely criticised for a slow start that saw him fail to score until the knockout phase, yet he now has four heading into the final.

It is a curious change from his performance at the 2018 World Cup, when he scored five in the group and only one in the knockouts, and he suggested that may be by design.

"Obviously don't get me wrong, I'd have loved to have scored three or four in the group and got off to fantastic start and gone from there, but it was more about the energy," he said.

"I felt in the World Cup, it was such an amazing start, scoring in the last minute against Tunisia, a lot of energy after that game was used in terms of the emotion, and then against Panama it was the same, because it was an amazing game and I got a hat-trick.

"Again, there's a lot of talk and mental energy [expended] – Colombia was the same. Not just physically but mentally I felt I just lost a little towards the latter stages, so going into this one with a bit more experience it's about not getting too carried away, whether I score or not.

"Thankfully it's worked out pretty well, but I guess that's part of the learning curve and gaining that experience, hopefully I've enough left to finish the job."

Harry Kane has rejected the suggestion England are too nice ahead of the Euro 2020 final, with Gareth Southgate's squad ready to test their mettle once again after "knocking down barriers" to set up a showdown with Italy.

England will be aiming to win a first major international trophy since the 1966 World Cup, a 55-year-drought during which they have never made it beyond the last four at any tournament.

However, Kane's winner in extra time against Denmark on Wednesday secured a place in this year's European Championship showpiece – and they will have home advantage again when they face the Azzurri at Wembley Stadium.

Southgate and his players have ended the nation's long, at times painful wait to reach another final, but Kane made clear on the eve of the contest that being "humble and respectful" as a group does not suggest they lack the ruthless edge required to get the job done on Sunday.

Asked during his pre-match media duties if England are too nice, he replied: "No, I don't think so

"That's the personality of a lot of the players in the squad, they are humble and respectful, but we have a focus and determination to win, we've shown that in last tournament and this, knocking down barriers that have been there for a long time.

"In modern football there isn't so much mind games before, getting too hyped or out of control.

"We have a real vision of where we want to be and without that and our winning mentality we wouldn't be where we are now."

 

Southgate played for England when they lost in a Euros semi-final to Germany at the old Wembley back in 1996, when the song 'Three Lions' by English comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner became synonymous with the tournament.

The lyrics reference the failures to replicate the success enjoyed by Alf Ramsey's side over West Germany in 1966 and it has remained popular ever since, particularly when the national team are in action at a major event.

While Southgate has mixed emotions towards the song – it was his missed penalty that proved costly in the shoot-out against the Germans 25 years ago – he is delighted with the support his players have received this year.

"I didn't want to listen to it for 15 years because it was too painful for me," Southgate, who confirmed Phil Foden is a doubt to face Italy due to a knock, said to the media.

"You have to know the English to understand our humour and our humour is probably quite unique. It's certainly not arrogant, the lyrics are making fun of ourselves and what's gone wrong before.

"It's always appeared at tournaments, we have a couple of replacements that seem to have come through now, which is nice to move things forward.

"The atmosphere in the ground is great. When we started three four years ago, we had people throwing paper planes, they weren't behind the team and there was an apathy towards the team, but now the energy is fantastic.

"It's so important for the players, they need that warmth and it's definitely helped inspire us in this tournament."

Gareth Southgate and his England squad have the support of Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family heading into their Euro 2020 final against Italy.

England beat Denmark 2-1 after extra-time on Wednesday to book their place in the final of a major tournament for the first time since 1966, the year they won the World Cup at Wembley.

The national stadium is again the venue for England's second final, with Roberto Mancini's Italy side standing in the way of Southgate's men.

Ahead of the fixture, England's manager received a letter of support from the monarch.

"Fifty-five years ago I was fortunate to present the World Cup to Bobby Moore, and saw what it meant to the players, management and support staff to reach and win the final of a major international football tournament," read the letter, addressed to Southgate and shared on England's social media channels.

"I want to send my congratulations and that of my family to you all on reaching the final of the European Championships, and send my good wishes for tomorrow with the hope that history will record not only your success but also the spirit, commitment and pride with which you have conducted yourselves."

Asked about the message in his pre-match news conference, Southgate said: "It's been fantastic to have obviously the letter from the Queen, from the Prime Minister to all the team and the recognition that players and all of the staff have gone about this in the right way.

"We had a fabulous reception with local villages at St George's Park, so you got more a sense of what's going on outside the bubble, but it comes back to tomorrow.

"We are here to win. It's important how we represent people and we are pleased that legacy is there but now we want to go and lift the trophy."

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