It all happened again: “The sound, the fury, the mediocrity,” as Brian Phillips termed it in Grantland. This was supposed to be England’s moment, a chance to claim their first knockout win over a major nation since 1966. For 120 minutes, England resisted surge after surge of Italian pressure. John Terry and Joleon Lescott were immense in the center of defense, particularly Terry, who blocked a series of goal-bound shots.
In January, United fans celebrated the return of Paul Scholes. England could have used a player of his ability. Possession is the crux of international football, and it was England’s inability to maintain it that ultimately cost them a place in the semi-finals. Reports before the tournament claimed that Michael Carrick rejected a spot in the England squad because he knew that he wouldn’t start. Roy Hodgson should have granted Carrick the assurances he demanded.
Carrick, Scholes and the injured Jack Wilshere are the only English players comparable to Italy’s creative linchpin, Andrea Pirlo. Pirlo – who, remember, was linked to Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea team a couple of seasons ago – commanded midfield from his station in front of the back four. His “Panenka” penalty epitomized the calm with which he handled the game. Pirlo is a creative genius, a player for whom England had no answer. Reasonable England supporters will appreciate the justice of Italy’s victory. Hodgson’s team have nothing to hide behind – this was a fair result.
And so the hurt goes on. The European Championships in 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary of the ’66 triumph. Maybe by then England will have a player as elegant as Pirlo. Jack Wilshere, perhaps. But if there’s anything that watching England has taught us, it’s that they never learn from their mistakes.