Jordan Pickford in the summer of 1996 is an English child of just over two years, he does not yet know and cannot know who he will be and what will be of his life. Gareth Southgate is 25 years old , and a good defender of Aston Villa and in his first international tournament with England, the 1996 European Championships played at home.
Gareth is the owner of the National Three Lions team coached by Terry Venables who is trying to win the continental trophy for the first time. It is June 26th, and the day of the semi-final against Germany, again the Germans, an infinite challenge made even more incandescent after the precedent of Italia ’90, in which Beckenbauer’s team earns the pass for the final by winning on penalties at the Delle Alpi in Turin. The beginning of a nightmare for His Majesty’s subjects.

Even that evening at Wembley everything is decided from 11 meters : Shearer’s goal (top scorer of that tournament with 5 goals) after 3 minutes, Kuntz replied in the 16 ‘. 1-1, result unchanged even after 120 minutes despite the debut of the fatal rule of the golden goal (which then decides the final between the Germans and the Czech Republic with a goal from Bierhoff).
Jordan Pickford has no knowledge of what he is seeing, and still too young. His parents and his family are probably glued to the TV, eagerly waiting to figure out if their England will make it to the final.

On penalties all score, 5 out of 5, Stuart Pearce also hits the target, who in 1990 had the penalty saved by Bode Illgner . The series begins to the bitter end , from midfield Gareth Southgate approaches the penalty area. He knows he can’t go wrong, he knows that the final is a step, he knows that if he scores he puts incredible pressure on the last German shooter.
In front has Andreas Kopke, a decent level goalkeeper of Eintracht Frankfurt, but who in that European Championship has already become a protagonist by saving a penalty against Gianfranco Zola in the group stage against Italy. Because of that mistake, Sacchi’s Azzurri were eliminated from the competition.
Referee Sandor Puhl whistles, one of the best in the world in those years. Gareth starts, his run-up begins just outside the penalty area. He decides to throw the ball low, low shot, to the right of the goalkeeper. The problem is that Kopke has already understood everything and rejects the shot.

In that moment the whole world collapses on you, you return to midfield and you hope your mistake is not decisive, you hope that David Seaman can help you and save Andy Moeller’s penalty. It will not be so, the former Juventus striker scores and takes Germany to the final, the last obstacle before climbing to the top of Europe thanks to Oliver Bierhoff.
The unfortunate night at Wembley haunts Southgate throughout his career. He will even become the protagonist of a Pizza Hut commercial in the company of Stuart Pearce and Chris Waddle , his fellow adventurers in the saga of the wrong penalty that began against the Germans in Italy ’90. Rock band The Business also made a song out of it, “Southgate (Euro ’96)”.
Jordan Pickford slowly begins to grow, dreams of becoming a goalkeeper and breaking that curse that hits England every time a knockout match ends from 11 meters. Victims of their own creations: they invented football, they codified the idea of ​​penalties in 1891 that came to an Irishman, William McCrum, a year earlier .
Italy ’90 and Euro ’96 are just the prologue. France ’98, out against Argentina in the round of 16, despite the penalty of Alan Shearer who patent science as the perfect penalty. Euro 2004, out against Portugal in the quarter-finals, when goalkeeper Ricardo saved the last penalty without gloves from Vassell before going to transform the decisive one .

Germany 2006, always the Lusitanians, always quarter-finals, still the nightmare Ricardo in goal. Out with the last penalty converted by a young Cristiano Ronaldo. Euro 2012, derby of bad luck against Italy, another national team that lives the eleven meters as an obsession (knocked out for 3 consecutive editions at the World Cup, between 1990 and 1998, before taking revenge in the final in Berlin in 2006) . Out after Pirlo’s spoon.

Russia 2018, 3 July, Spartak Stadium in Moscow.

Jordan Pickford is 24, plays for Everton and is the starting goalkeeper for Her Majesty’s team. Gareth Southgate has been the coach for two years, promoted by the Under 21 team after the scandal involving his predecessor, Sam Allardyce.

Round of 16 against Colombia , 1-1 after 120 ‘, a perfect match before the last penalties. Henderson and Uribe were wrong.At 22.50 Carlos Bacca shows up on the spot , in front of him Pickford. Jordan looks at him, throws himself to his right but with the recall hand he manages to intercept the central penalty of the former AC Milan player. It is for you Gareth, and for you who have lived an obsession for 22 years, and for you the last penalty transformed by Eric Dier. Southgate can run to midfield to hug his boys, to thank Jordan who in 1996 was just over 2 years old and didn’t know who he would become.
Today he is the man who blows up London and Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. After 12 out of 14 eliminations on penalties, England can finally celebrate . Now there is Sweden in the quarter-finals, even the penalties are no longer scary.

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