Neville on Italy penalty agony: ‘Southgate got us there by being pragmatic, players gave their all… this is not the time to criticise tactics and penalty-takers… England did us proud; Euro 2020 was everything country needed’
Monday 12 July 2021 09:51, UK
Gary Neville says England should be proud of Gareth Southgate and his players after a Euro 2020 tournament that stirred a nation.
England suffered familiar heartbreak in their men’s first major tournament final since 1966, losing 3-2 on penalties to Italy in front of a partisan crowd at Wembley.
But Neville insists Southgate’s class of 2021 provided “everything the country needed” and pointed to the manager’s pragmatism amid public clamour as a key reason England had the chance of glory.
Here, the Sky Sports pundit, speaking to Sky Sports News, gives his verdict on England’s agonising defeat, shrugs off scrutiny of tactics, substitutions and penalty-takers, and pays tribute to the side that went so close.
‘England shrunk back but players gave absolute all’
“England were playing against a very good team. After about 20 minutes, Italy started to get a grip of the game and get control of possession.
“Straight after the game, you don’t want to go into too much analysis and tactics but if you were analysing it, it has been an issue for England teams in tournaments over 20, 30, 40 years, that they do sometimes shrink back a bit towards their box and be a little bit deep. It then becomes difficult to get out of that position.
“From about 25 minutes on to the end of normal time, that’s what we did. There were periods where I thought we were on the ropes, then we came back off the ropes. The lads showed resilience and hung in there but it was just that little bit extra to get the job done… once it went to penalties – you see (Gianluigi) Donnarumma’s penalty record and the size of him – I always felt Italy had that slight advantage.
“I think we have been brilliant in the tournament but we just could not get over that line, that final hurdle. That’s no criticism of the players because they gave their absolute all.”
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‘Southgate found a way – this is not the time for criticism’
“I saw after the game people saying Southgate should have made more substitutions, these players should have taken the penalties; these are the same people who have been saying that he should have played a different system against Germany, that he should not have played Kieran Trippier against Croatia, that he should have played a more attacking system.
“I genuinely believe that Southgate and his players navigated their way to this final in the only way they could and that was to be a little more pragmatic – put the two holding midfield players in front of defence; if it needed to be a back five, it was because of the shape or quality of the other team.
“He found a way to get to the final. Sometimes we all like to be purists at times and want him to find a way to play all those attacking players but I don’t think England would have got to the final if they had gone punch to punch with some of the nations they came across along the way.
“I think Gareth knew he had to play a certain way to get to the final and he did that. At the end it comes down to small margins, details like penalties. This is not the time to be criticising tactics and substitutions.
“The reality is that Southgate has proved so many of us wrong – not just in this tournament but over the last two years – about decisions he has made – it would be a nonsense now to start suggesting we are right about substitutions and penalty-takers when most of us have not seen this in our lifetimes.”
Should experienced players have stepped up in shootout?
“I have been to eight major tournaments and I have been knocked out on penalties five times.
“I have seen it all. I have seen the one where the hero stands up and says, ‘I want to take one,’ when actually, I’m thinking, ‘I don’t really want you to take one!’
“Italy had an absolutely brilliant goalkeeper who was always going to save some of those penalties. He was outstanding.
“The people who take penalties in my mind should be the people who are most confident about putting the ball in the back of the net, who have a history of putting the ball in the back of the net in those situations.
“You cannot recreate it in training but you can have a comfort about doing it, you can be a better striker of a ball than others. I have got no doubt that Gareth and his staff will have done everything possible to have chosen those five penalty-takers. Those five were planned to stand up.
“Raheem Sterling, if we are honest, is not a great striker of a football. His finishing can be quite scruffy. Jack Grealish has not taken a penalty for his club in two years and there will be a reason for that.
“The manager will have looked at everything in fine detail – he’s got so much so right but sometimes it just does not work out.”
‘England have done us proud and brought us together’
“It’s been absolutely amazing. They have done everyone proud.
“It was everything this country needed. Those boys have brought us together, they have been representative of this country. Gareth has been fantastic in the way he has handled the players, the tournament, the games.
“The final was one step too far from a football point of view and we are all disappointed.
“Moments like this define your childhood but what Gareth and the players have done is capture our imaginations and inspire us during a difficult time.
“Italy were outstanding – congratulations to them – but we should all be incredibly proud. We were a lot more mature in this tournament. We need to get behind those lads when the Premier League restarts, show togetherness and compassion.”
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