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Why England's Euro 2020 final defeat is different to other heartbreaks

Bukayo Saka
(Image credit: Getty)

Time is not a strict cause to effect. It's a circle. Nothing is ever new: history has a habit of repeating.

England, it seems, are destined to keep crashing in the same car. When that Azerbaijani assistant referee awarded Geoff Hurst's second goal, perhaps the Three Lions did a deal with the devil to forever be subjected to bad luck, bad decisions and losing grip of games on the final thread.

That's the story, at least. These are the tales that we tell ourselves, of how penalty shootouts ruin lives. How it's the worst way to go. Gareth Southgate, for over two decades of his life, was remembered for the fluff-up he made on a continental stage from 12 yards. 

Listen to the England manager talk recently about the moment that defined his playing career, however, and you'd be forgiven for having a different view. Southgate mentions how he wouldn't change what had happened. He talks about how he reconciled with the incident, saying that at least the worst thing that can possibly happen to you as a professional footballer, has happened.

But Gareth Southgate is no longer the Man Who Missed The Penalty. Gareth Southgate is the man who hit rock bottom - and then took England back to the top. 

Ever since 1990, England have viewed the pain of a shootout as the ultimate low. This has been the England fans' Dalek: the one thing to send us behind the back of the sofa as a collective. But it's not true anymore. Southgate has proved that there's a way back from this. He's taken England further than anyone for 55 years: what happened half a lifetime ago was, very clearly, not a death sentence. 

MORE EURO 2020 Why Bukayo Saka has shone in a team full of senior superstars

And that will be true of the three men who missed their spot-kicks. Bukayo Saka carries Arsenal as an institution on his 19-year-old shoulders; the hopes and the horrors that come with such responsibility. The confidence that he bristles with, defenders almost scared to touch him for fear of getting an electric shock, is special. Such spark cannot be extinguished.

Jadon Sancho was so confident of his own ability, he moved to a foreign country to showcase it. Marcus Rashford is a leader not just on a football field but in wider society. These boys will have a tough few days - but they will be more than OK.

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This is not the moment that we thought it was in 1996. Back then, it was heartache. It was despair. We might never get so close again. Well, the World Cup is 18 months away and this is the youngest squad at the Euros - it won't be another 25 years before England get here again, let alone another 55.

And the penalty miss doesn't mean what it used to. 

We got Gareth Southgate out of the last one, after all. The story of the last two tournaments is that of a man searching for redemption, and a nation's realisation that he shouldn't feel the need.

This is not the worst thing that can possibly happen in football - this is an opportunity for leaders and titans will be born from the disappointment of 2021. 

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