Happy 11th July everyone in Scotland! Because in England the date isn’t so much a happy time as a time to reflect on what could have been…
Over the last four years, Three Lions fans have seen their team come so close to the glory that has hung far beyond them since 1966, only to screw things up.
For what seemed like ages to me, surely most of my own English teams went into tournaments with a lot of hope and expectation before fulfilling none of it and embarrassingly collapsing.
But two years later, under Gareth Southgate, the glorious summer of 2018 was a complete change from what had come before and England made a decent run.
The weather and a dramatic Love Island season, coupled with the belief across the country that success is possible, was a wonderful experience.
Typically, England almost blew it all in their opening game as Harry Kane needed an injury-time winner to beat Tunisia ahead of a 6-1 win over Panama and then a loss to Belgium, meaning an easier route to the final.
Then Kieran Trippier delivered a superb fifth-minute free-kick that flew into the Croatia net in the semi-finals and suddenly England were staring squarely in the face of their first major final in 52 years.
Then heartbreak struck as England just couldn’t keep the ball long enough and Luka Modric and his team-mates roared back into play.
They equalized in the 66th minute with Tottenham Hotspur’s new signing Ivan Perisic scoring before Mario Mandzukic scored in extra time to shatter the Three Lions’ hopes.
The team then had to wait three years to put things right, thanks to the Covid outbreak delaying the Euros by a year, but knew they had a huge opportunity.
While Euro 2020 was not officially a home tournament for England, all three group games were played at Wembley, with the semi-finals and final also scheduled in London.
A second round game was then added to Wembley’s schedule as the Republic of Ireland were unable to host games, meaning England could advance to the final just a game away, which is exactly what they did.
With a 1-0 win in the first group game, a jittery 0-0 draw against Scotland and another 1-0 win against the Czech Republic, Croatia took revenge with a 1-0 win to take first place secure in the group.
England then defeated old foe Germany in the second round and that once again gave the country reason to believe.
They defeated Ukraine 4-0 in the quarter-finals, putting them in the semi-finals against Denmark. After Christian Eriksen’s heart attack in a group game, they rode an emotional wave.
England conceded for the first time in the tournament but Southgate’s side recovered minutes later to equalise. They needed a controversial penalty in extra time to reach a final for the first time since they met Italy in 1966.
Luke Shaw started a move deep in his own half before continuing his run unmarked into the box and finishing perfectly after a brilliant cross.
Once again, however, it was too soon as Italy eventually asserted their dominance of the game in the second half, equalizing through Leonardo Bonucci.
The game ended in a penalty shootout and although Italy missed twice, including a save by Jordan Pickford for Jorginho’s penalty, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all missed for England and Italy became European champions.
Suddenly it feels good that this year’s World Cup is taking place in winter…