England has only itself to blame for the loss to Italy in the final of the Euro Cup tournament at Wembley. The biggest blunder was made in the choice of penalty takers when it came to the shoot-out. The responsibility was given to substitutes who had just been brought into the game a few minutes earlier. They had no chance to get acclimatised to the existing conditions on the pitch or get a touch of the ball.
To ask such a player to take a penalty in a high pressure situation is suicidal. Converting a penalty is not easy. Shootouts place enormous psychological pressure on the player. The goalkeeper is the underdog. But the player taking the shot must succeed at all costs. So he should mentally strong to handle this pressure. But if a player, who has just come onto the pitch, is handed this responsibility it is a big gamble and it puts pressure on that player.
There have been many cases where the substitute player has failed with his penalty kick. There was Zico’s failed attempt against France in the 1986 FIFA World Cup. Soon after coming in, he was asked to take a penalty and his shot was easily saved by goalie Joel Bats. If the world’s best player failed then, what chance did these young England players would have had on Sunday?
England coach Gareth Southgate proved to be an uninspiring leader. He was too rigid and did not experiment with young blood. Moreover, his own tension was visible to his players through his body language. After England scored an early goal, Italy began controlling the game and Southgate couldn’t find any answers.
The substitutes should have been brought on after Italy had equalised. By the time Grealish, Saka and Rashford were brought in, the game was out of England’s hands.
On the other hand, Italy got it right. The substitutions were done at the right time, the tactics were perfect and they deserved to win. This year the UEFA had increased the total prize money to 371 million Euros which was a big jump from 304 million offered in 2016. This too was a big motivation to the teams to do well in this tournament which is a mini World Cup.
(Victor Amalraj is a former Indian captain and also led the famous Kolkata clubs Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting)
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