The Three Lions lost their first European Championship final 3-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw with Italy at Wembley last night.
“The boys couldn’t have given more,” said captain Kane, who scored his penalty in the shoot-out but saw Marcus Rashford hit his against the post, and Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka’s saved.
“Penalties are obviously the worst feeling in the world when you lose.
“It wasn’t our night, but it’s been a fantastic tournament and we should be proud to hold our heads up high. It’s going to hurt now, but we’re on the right track and are building. Hopefully we can make progress from this next year.”
The game had started so brightly for England when they took the lead after just two minutes, Luke Shaw volleying in and justifying Southgate’s latest surprise move, to select Kieran Trippier and Shaw as wing-backs. It was Trippier who crossed for the goal.
But England lost the initiative midway through the first half and never regained it. Leonardo Bonucci’s 67th-minute equaliser was no less than Italy deserved, but the Azzurri could not add to it.
“Italy are a great side,” said Kane of opponents who are unbeaten in their las 34 internationals. “We got off to a perfect start and maybe dropped a little too deep, it’s easy to try to soak up the pressure and hold onto that.
“To be fair we looked fairly in control, and they got their break from the set-piece.
“Penalties is penalties. We went through our process, the boys did everything they could, it just wasn’t our night. These things can happen. Anyone can miss a penalty.
“We win together, we lose together. The boys can grow from it, and it gives us motivation for the World Cup next year. We’re all winners, we want to win, and it will probably hurt for the rest of our careers, but that’s football.”
England had taken an early lead in the shoot-out, Jordan Pickford saving Italy’s second penalty from Andrea Belotti. He also kept out Jorginho when the Chelsea midfielder had the chance to win the shoot-out, but it only delayed the inevitable.
It was particularly cruel on manager Gareth Southgate, who as a player missed the decisive penalty in the 1996 European Championship semi-final, also at Wembley, against Germany.
The Harrogate-based former Middlesbrough player-turned-manager has broken new ground so often in the tournament, but this was one hard-luck story he was unable to rewrite. It means England’s 55-year wait for their second major trophy goes on.
Despite the bitterly disappointing way it ended, Kane was right to argue this has been a triumph of a tournament for England and in particular their manager, who was able to lead his country to a stage of the competition it had never reached before.
Southgate’s conservatism was instrumental in getting England to the final, only conceding once in six matches en route, but it was their apparent reluctance to go for the jugular once Shaw gave them their early lead which proved costly.
The Three Lions had the better of the first 20 minutes or so of the game, but Italy were the stronger side from that point on.
Nevertheless, England’s performances in reaching the final – most memorably their first knockout win in tournament football over Germany since the 1966 final – have played an important part in lifting national morale during the Covid-19 pandemic which caused the pan-European competition to be delayed by 12 months.
The four Yorkshiremen who started last night’s final – Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire and Kalvin Phillips all played in defensive roles. Walker and Maguire are from Sheffield, Stones Barnsley and Phillips Leeds, where he has spent the whole of his career.
England are edging towards only their second major international trophy under Southgate’s management. Having reached the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup and 2019 Nations League semi-finals and come so close to winning a first European Championship, a young squad will now be strongly fancied to win the next World Cup, which will controversially be played in Qatar in December 2022. Adding to England’s disappointment was the behaviour of a large minority of fans around Wembley and London in general which will surely be the subject of Uefa investigations.
Coverage: Pages 2-5