Rashford and Sancho were evidently among his five best penalty takers, but it did not pay off

Credit: Getty Images

It was a decision which summed up how Gareth Southgate had approached the entire tournament. Perhaps even his life in the aftermath of missing in England’s penalty shoot out defeat against Germany at Euro ’96.

He would not take the conventional route. He would not be swayed by what people might say if it did not work.

He would follow his instinct, as well as what had been months of meticulous work with the England players. And so he rolled the dice in the 120th minute. Off came Kyle Walker and Jordan Henderson. On came Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.

The change had clearly been made for one reason and one reason only. Penalties were looming and, in the extensive practice that the England players had undergone, Rashford and Sancho were evidently among his five best penalty takers.

It made for a particularly tense finale even in extra-time when three minutes went up on the fourth official’s board and Rashford, temporarily playing at right-back, was forced to track back and make an important tackle.

He duly did his job and Southgate had two men he wanted still on the pitch.

Hindsight, at this point, is a wonderful tool. And we will never know what would have happened if Southgate had left the team as it was and instead turned to two players who were already on the pitch.

Rashford's penalty hits the post…

Credit: Offside

…while Sancho's is pushed away

Credit: Pool via REUTERS

We do know that what followed will be the subject of endless debate. Harry Kane had scored. Harry Maguire had scored. But Rashford stepped up and, having performed an unconvincing shuffle, sent goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma the wrong way but pulled his penalty against the post.

Sancho followed Rashford and, although he did force a save, hit his penalty with limited conviction. The momentum had swung and, with Bukayo Saka then also missing, Southgate’s England had been defeated. Alan Shearer, Southgate’s team-mate at Euro ‘96 and a BBC pundit, tackled the issue head on. 

“It’s a big, big ask…a big ask to put two players on with a minute to go to say you are going to go and take a penalty,” said Shearer. “You are under enough pressure as a player but the extra pressure that you are putting on these two individuals when you have had no feel of a football, you are not involved in the game at all, and then you are put in that situation. You’ve not kicked a football, you’ve been sat on your backside.”

Rio Ferdinand pointed out the precedents of tactical substitutes – “that’s been happening for years…players come on with three, four, five minutes to go as penalty takers” – and there can be little doubt that Southgate would have been hailed a genius had it come off. As it is, in what felt like an unspeakably cruel twist, a life story that ITV had earlier predicted should make a film now contains penalty heartache as both player and manager.