Opinion: Why Gareth Southgate must take the blame for England's loss to Italy

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It ultimately ended in tears for England.

After all they hype, hope and enthusiasm that followed the team as they reached the final, they eventually fell short as they lost out on penalties to Italy in the grand finale of UEFA Euro 2020.

In front of a capacity crowd at Wembley, the Three Lions made the best possible start as they took the lead inside two minutes, with Luke Shaw smashing home a low half volley from a lovely Kieran Trippier cross for his maiden England goal. But it was all Italy from then on, as the Azzurri desperately sought a way back into the game. England's defence was resilient as usual but eventually crumbled under the sustained pressure with Leonardo Bonucci scoring the equalizer from a corner, firing home a rebound after Giovanni Di Lorenzo had an effort saved by the impressive Jordan Pickford, whom had preserved up till that point.

Italy suffered a huge blow after Federico Chiesa, their best player on the day, suffered an injury and had to be taken off. But it was still Roberto Mancini's side who looked the likelier to grab the winner, while England had a couple of opportunities as well. With both sides inseparable after 120 minutes of football, the game went into penalties and Gianluigi Donnarumma was the hero for Italy, saving kicks from Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka while Marcus Rashford hit the post. Pickford was also impressive in the shootout, keeping out efforts from Belotti and Jorginho, but it wasn't enough and Italy stormed to their second ever European Championship triumph.

At the end of the day, it can hardly be argued that Italy winning was not the deserved result. The Azzurri were the better team and showed more intent, both when they were trailing and when they equalized. For England, questions will be asked of Gareth Southgate's decision making, and rightfully so. There have always been doubts and questions asked about the England manager's ability to lead the team even before the competition began, but he silenced his critics by guiding the Three Lions to their first ever Euros final. However, he must take the blame for the way things panned out.

First of all, why did he not make his substitutions early enough in the game? He opted with a back three, with Mount, Sterling and Kane leading the line. But it was clear that some players were not exactly having the desired impact - Mount, asides from doing his defensive duties diligently, struggled to impact the game, while Sterling wasn't having the desired impact. He had Jack Grealish, Jason Sancho, Marcus Rashford and other quality players on the bench. Yet he only introduced Bukayo Saka and Jordan Henderson in regulation time.

Instead, he brought on Grealish in extra time, while Sancho and Rashford didn't come in till the final moments of the game. It would've been wiser to bring them on earlier, as they could've had more of an impact.

And then, the penalty shootout.

What in the world was that? Why did Southgate allow for Rashford, Sancho and Saka to take the last three penalties? Especially Saka! That of Sancho and Rashford is understandable, but Saka taking a penaltu was a foolish decision. He doesn't usually take them for Arsenal, and besides, this is the final of the Euros. Why would you ask for the fifth penalty of a European Championship final to be taken by a 19-year old who doesn't usually take penalties, and had looked nervous during the game? There were other options - Raheem Sterling, Kalvin Philips, Luke Shaw and John Stones could've gone before Saka. What's more, the decision to remove Jordan Henderson for Sancho now looks stupid.

Southgate has to take the fall for this. He got a number of decisions wrong in this game, and England ultimately paid for it.

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