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Fletch's Euros column: We're on the footballing map


AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Patriotic Englishman Steve Fletcher conceded “the best team won” after Italy had been crowned champions of Europe.

The Azzurri ruined England’s chances of ending their 55-year wait for men’s silverware at a major tournament on a night of high drama at Wembley.

Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions were handed a dream start when Luke Shaw fired them ahead with a stunning opening goal after just two minutes.

But after Leonardo Bonucci had levelled midway through the second half and extra-time had failed to find a winner, Roberto Mancini’s team prevailed 3-2 on penalties.

Writing in his final Euro 2020 column, Fletcher said the England’s players should “hold their heads high”, but did question why late substitutes Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford and teenager Bukayo Saka stepped up in the shootout.

Cherries’ appearance record holder Fletcher, whose grandfather Jack Howe was capped by England in the 1940s, has been penning his opinions for afcb.co.uk throughout the tournament.

Deep down, I thought the best team won and, as painful as it is to say that, overall you would have to say Italy deserved it.

They had 65 per cent of the possession and 19 shots compared with six for us. They certainly dominated the ball a lot more than I thought they would.

I said I thought the first goal would be important and Luke Shaw delivered. It should have given us something to hold on to.

I thought we would have had more possession than we did but Italy were very good on the night. Although there wasn’t a lot in it, they just looked a bit fresher.

We stepped up a bit in the second half of extra-time and I thought that was going to be our chance.

But for the rest of the game, I felt they dominated. They were very good on the ball and our best opportunities were from counter-attacks.

We dug in and did well defensively. We were strong as a team, we had ten men behind the ball when Italy had it and worked our socks off to stop them scoring.

When they did score, it was a big scrappy. Cristante’s flick at the near post came off his shoulder, bordering on his arm. VAR could easily have ruled it out for that.

Jordan Pickford then made a great save to push Verratti’s header on to the post before Bonucci was there to bundle the ball into the back of the net.

Jorginho could have been sent off for his challenge on Jack Grealish. In the Premier League, I think he would have received a red card.

Yes, he got his foot on the ball but he followed through and his studs were showing. They could have gone down to ten men and there was still a little way to go then. You need decisions to go your way.

But in the grand scheme of things, Italy deserved their equaliser and they have been the best team throughout the tournament. Sometimes you have to hold up your hand.

With penalty shootouts, hindsight is a wonderful thing and you can always look back and say they should have done this or that.

First things first though, it takes character and bravery to step up and nobody should lose sight of that.

You have to assume Saka put his name forward. But regardless of whether he wanted one or not, it was a big ask for a 19-year-old lad to take the decisive fifth penalty in the final of the European Championship.

He doesn’t take penalties for Arsenal. If he did, I would have understood it to a degree but he doesn’t.

To have a teenager who doesn’t take penalties for his club shouldering the hopes and expectations of a whole nation doesn’t sit right with me. It was some responsibility and, hopefully, he will be stronger for the experience.

I know it’s all ifs and buts. But you have to put these things into context.

Sancho and Rashford came off the bench in the last minute of extra-time and neither of them touched the ball before they took their penalties.

They would have been involved in the kickaround at half-time and then gone for 75 minutes sitting on the bench.

I know what it’s like even when you want to join in with training, you have to get a feel for the ball and I didn’t think they were given enough time.

I know some of the senior players have been getting some stick for not taking penalties but you need to feel right.

You can have the most technically-gifted player in the world but if he doesn’t feel comfortable, he won’t volunteer. Maybe more senior players could have stepped up.

With his substitutes, I felt it was more a case of not wanting to lose rather than wanting to win for Gareth.

I thought we had the tools in the box to win it and he was just a little reluctant to make his substitutions earlier. In my opinion, Grealish should have gone on sooner.

When you’ve got something to hold on to, you try to do that but Mancini was much quicker with his changes.

When you look back on the tournament, would we have settled for a place in the final?

Of course we would, absolutely.

But when you’re in it, you want to win it, especially when you have waited 55 years.

But the team will progress and will get better and stronger. The one positive is that we reached the final and sometimes you need to look at the bigger picture.

As a nation, we are all distraught.

But there were some very good teams in this tournament which didn’t reach the final and people need to remember that.

At the start, I think if anyone had said England would reach the final and go to penalties, I think 99 per cent of supporters would have bitten off their hand and that probably goes for the players as well.

We all hoped we would win it but it was always going to be a tough ask.

The players and staff can all hold their heads high. They have done the nation proud.

They were fantastic and they will take a great deal from this experience. The younger players will certainly learn a lot.

We have reached the semi-final of the World Cup and the final of the European Championship in the past two major tournaments. All of a sudden, we’re on the footballing map.

People aren’t looking at us now thinking we are going to get knocked out in the quarter-finals all the time.

Now, people are looking at us and saying we have the potential to go all the way.

I’m counting down the days to the World Cup finals!

Up the Cherries and Up the Three Lions!

Thanks for reading my columns during the tournament, Fletch.

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