Gareth Southgate insisted that he alone should bear the burden for England's trio of missed penalties as their European Championships dreams slammed into the roadblock of Gianluigi Donnarumma at Wembley Stadium.
After a 1-1 draw in normal time the Italy goalkeeper saved efforts from Jadon Sancho and decisively from Bukayo Saka with Marcus Rashford hitting the post. Jordan Pickford may have denied Andrea Belotti and Jorginho from 12 yards out but it would not be enough for England to end their 55 year wait for a major trophy.
The order of the penalty takers was the subject of much debate in the immediate aftermath of the final whistle and Southgate's use of his substitutes and ranking of spot takers will surely be mulled over further in the days ahead. Both Sancho and Rashford were brought on to take penalties in the dying minutes of extra time and additionally there will be those who argue that tasking Saka with the decisive fifth spot kick was a huge burden to place on 19-year-old shoulders. Among them were former Manchester United captain Roy Keane, who specifically criticized Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish for letting the Arsenal youngster take a penalty ahead of them.
Asked what his message was for Saka, Southgate was emphatic that responsibility for the shootout lay with him alone: "That is down to me, I decided on the penalty takers based on what they have done in training and nobody is on their own. We have won together as a team and it is on all of us together to not be able to win the game tonight. In terms of penalties it is my call and it totally rests with me.
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"We were well prepared and we started it well, unfortunately we weren't able to convert tonight. They can't look at themselves in terms of how they practice because they couldn't have done that anymore or any better."
Southgate would go on to add that two of the penalty takers he had planned to use were substituted off. Kieran Trippier, Declan Rice and Mason Mount were all withdrawn before the second half of extra time. Saka had never taken a penalty in his professional career previously though neither Grealish nor Sterling regularly take spot kicks for their club side.
On the order of the penalties Southgate added: "They were the best takers we had left on the pitch."
If anyone is well versed in the heartbreak that comes with missing a penalty for England it is Southgate, who has spoken in this tournament of his disappointment at seeing his effort saved in the semifinal defeat to Germany at Euro 96. However, he was not subjected to the racist abuse that was almost immediately visible on the social media accounts of Rashford, Sancho and Saka following the defeat.
The manager's message of support was echoed by captain Harry Kane who along with Harry Maguire was the only player to convert his penalty.
"You've got to hold your heads high," he said of the trio who had not been so fortunate. "It's been a fantastic tournament. Anyone can miss a penalty. We win together, we lose together. We'll learn and grow from it. Those boys will grow from it and it will give us more motivation for the World Cup next year."
A first final since the 1966 World Cup represents further progress for England, who had reached the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They are expected to be among the favorites for the 2022 winter World Cup in Qatar.
"We should be extremely proud as a group of what we have achieved," said Kane. "We're all winners and want to win so it will probably hurt for a while and it will hurt for the rest of our careers, but that's football. We progressed well from Russia and now is about continuing that."