England-Italy in Euro 2020 final: “A moment we feared would never happen”

Dated: Sunday July 11 Time: 8:00 p.m. BST Location: Wembley Stadium, London Blanket: Live on BBC TV, BBC Radio 5 Live, iPlayer and the BBC Sport website and app

Roy Hodgson sat behind a desk in Chantilly uttering the words that would become his epitaph as England manager: “I don’t really know what I’m doing here.”

Hodgson wanted to say he did not understand why he was forced to attend a press conference the day after his resignation following the humiliating defeat to Iceland in the round of 16 of Euro 2016 in France.

However, this was a comment that worked on several levels.

Perhaps it reflected the muddled state of mind of a decent man and manager who had presided over the worst performance in England history.

That’s what England does to you. They offer hope, despair, optimism, pessimism, elation, misery. Quite often within the same 90 minutes.

Five years after the embarrassment of Nice, England are fortunate enough to experience their highest peak since winning the 1966 World Cup when they face Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley Stadium.

This is the moment when many English fans, and those of us who follow these events closely, thought we would never see them.

Will this milestone day be a glorious reward for years of failure? A nation turns to Gareth Southgate and England.

Observing England can be a lot, but it’s never dull, especially for those of us who have walked this particular road in one form or another for 25 years.

It was an ominous sign that the first England game I covered, in a previous journalist’s life, was the excruciating penalty shoot-out loss to Germany in the Euro 96 semi-final. C was a perfect preparation for the events to come.

I have covered England for the BBC at all major tournaments since 2002 and as this would become a regular event there was a lot of optimism about the flight to Kansai Airport in Osaka.

And, apart from the 2018 World Cup in Russia and that glorious delayed Euro 2020, he was in a bad position.

The Japanese city of Sapporo was the highlight of England’s 2002 World Cup campaign, hosting a victory for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side against Argentina under the Superdome, all played in the middle lingering resentment over the acrimonious South American victory over England on penalties in France 1998.

The next morning the day before, an unintentional English journalist on his way out accidentally jumped on the waiting Argentina team’s bus.

No names – let’s say for the sake of the story it was the legendary English Press Association scribe John Curtis – but he greeted a still-boiling Argentine striker, Gabriel Batistuta, with the reckless words: “Sorry Gabriel, buddy, have to get off and get on your own bus. ”

Hear this poor unfortunate man being manhandled out of the coach and bundled up in the hotel lobby, followed closely by his luggage, to the sound of a group of Mexican mariachis entertaining the guests.

But the laughs didn’t last long. The elimination was accompanied by a quarter-final defeat to future champions Brazil, the sight of a slowly receding David Seaman in his mind as Ronaldinho’s free kick passes him over. The veteran was then driven in tears to the waiting media, accompanied by a representative from the Football Association.

Qualifying has always been relatively straightforward and competition difficult, but Euro 2004 should always be seen as one that escaped Eriksson’s laid-back and star diet.

A superb England squad was bolstered by the emergence of explosive Everton superstar Wayne Rooney as the tournament was engulfed in “Roo-mania”.

The phenomenon has attracted worldwide attention, with calls being received from all parts of the world looking for any unknown information about the England striker.

Those of us who attended the same school as him, much earlier obviously, bathed in that thoughtful glory when asked to tell his story.

As always, England was a huge story.

As always, it ended in bitter disappointment, a penalty shootout loss to Portugal in the quarter-finals at Lisbon’s iconic Stadium of Light.

Rooney left that game early with a broken foot as England hopes were sabotaged by his injury and a controversially dismissed Sol Campbell goal.

Greece won Euro 2004. The rest of us wondered how England failed.

The list of near misses and misfortunes seemed endless until the hope of the last four weeks.

Eriksson’s reign ended two years later in the Baden-Baden circus at the 2006 German World Cup, with this beautiful town overtaken by the WAGs and accompanying paparazzi, playing football English a real spectacle.

Ashley Cole’s wife, Cheryl, and David Beckham’s wife, Victoria, were the center of attention and a small bar named Garibaldi’s became the HQ of the WAG, with the owner’s ship sailing profitably around town all nights.

England’s performance at the tournament probably needed to be overshadowed, again knocked out by Portugal on penalties in the quarter-finals, this time hampered by a red card for Rooney, sent off for going after Ricardo Carvalho.

Fabio Capello followed as England manager and was expected to bring a winning mentality and stern authority. One in two was not enough.

Instead, the South African World Cup in 2010 produced an English campaign of relentless misery, turgid football and ultimately a full and utter collage.

As the weak spots disappear it takes a few hits, but England have certainly tried until Southgate’s superb rebirth.

Capello seemed to lose the intrigue altogether on the eve of the tournament with the advent of a commercial venture called The Capello Index, which rated player performance. Not ideal when it came to his.

As we stood in the lavish surroundings of the so-called ‘Camp Capello’ at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus outside Rustenburg, even the most casual observer could detect a truly rotten atmosphere.

One player said: “When we open our windows we could be anywhere. You wouldn’t even know you were in South Africa there.”

Capello turned on the media, ranting at a photographer he mistakenly believed was taking pictures of the treatment room.

England’s grim performance in a 3-0 warm-up win over home side Platinum Stars gave the optimists among us the certainty that they weren’t as shoddy as they had been air and they just kept their powder dry.

How wrong we were.

Amidst tough competition, the 0-0 draw against Algeria in Cape Town is the worst international game I have ever covered. The game when literally nothing happened.

At least not until a frustrated Rooney turned his frustration on a TV camera and attacked critical England fans, a blessing in disguise for those of us in need of something spicy to say.

“Nice to see your own fans booing you”

The team and the fans were detached, far from what we saw at Euro 2020.

Even the controversy surrounding Frank Lampard’s shot – which was not given as a goal despite rebounding over the line – could not save the consolation of a 4-1 loss to Germany in the Last 16.

Euro 2012 was almost a free kick for the recently appointed Hodgson, following Capello’s resignation, but old ways die hard and it has once again ended in defeat, this time to Italy in the penalty shootout in the quarter-finals.

It nearly ended in an arrest and period of incarceration for this journalist after a foolish attempt to defend comedian Bernie Clifton in a chat with a tall-hat Kiev policeman trying to move on the English marching band.

Having been mistakenly identified as the group’s manager by a ‘mischievous’ colleague, the explanation that Clifton was an English national treasure famous for running with an ostrich between his legs did not, unsurprisingly, cut the ice with the forces of law.

This episode brings one smile now, but not when looking at Hodgson’s reign.

He had been England manager for two years when the World Cup landed on the venue of the sport’s romantic dreams, Brazil, with the final at the iconic Maracana Stadium.

England’s preparations in Miami lasted longer than their actual involvement in the tournament, following successive defeats to Italy and Uruguay. We learned of their fate when the phones started ringing on the Rio landing after Costa Rica beat Italy.

As at the time, expectations were so low that England were applauded by their fans after a scoreless draw against Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte ended the campaign.

Add another mess to Euro 2016 and that’s what makes the revival under Southgate and a group of players the nation loves so satisfying.

Bonds that have never existed before, especially in the days of the so-called “Golden Generation”, have been forged here.

Being in England has become a more relaxed experience – and what a joy to see them win on a regular basis, when the pressure is really high.

It’s been a long time since Japan in 2002, several thousand miles, the occasional joy, a lot of misery and stories to tell – but the Euro 2020 final now offers the prospect of a happy and glorious ending for so many. of people who follow this story we always thought remain elusive.

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