And thus begins another two years of hurt for England. The only difference this time is that the inevitable penalty-shootout defeat was a deserved punishment, rather than a cruel trick of fate.
England’s tournament destiny was sealed the moment that injury ruled out Jack Wilshere. Wilshere isn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last, player to be touted as the “future of English football,” but he would have added cohesiveness to an England midfield that was outnumbered and overrun in all four matches.
With Wilshere unavailable, Hodgson should have worked harder to recruit a player capable of dictating the tempo of a game. Gareth Barry was never going to be the answer. Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes are the only fully fit English players at all comparable to Italy’s Andrea Pirlo. But Carrick turned down a place in the squad when Hodgson refused to guarantee him a starting spot. And Scholes, frustrated by coaches who constantly played him out of position, had retired from internationals in the mid-2000s. He showed no interest in a return. Without a passer in midfield, England never had a prayer. Possession is the crux of international football, and it was England’s inability to maintain possession that ultimately cost them a place in the semifinals.