England spot on to earn bronze

Jordan Pickford celebrating England's penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland with Fabian Delph. The goalkeeper saved the Swiss team's sixth attempt from the spot to help the Three Lions prevail 6-5 and finish third in the Nations League after both te
Jordan Pickford celebrating England's penalty shoot-out win over Switzerland with Fabian Delph. The goalkeeper saved the Swiss team's sixth attempt from the spot to help the Three Lions prevail 6-5 and finish third in the Nations League after both teams played out a goal-less 120 minutes. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

After VAR denial in drawn-out game, Three Lions perfect in 6-5 shoot-out win over Swiss

GUIMARAES • This was a game too far, long before it drifted apologetically into extra time, or culminated in a penalty shoot-out relatively devoid of tension in the Portuguese sun.

It was a fixture which had felt more like a prolonged appeal for the season finally to finish but, in the end, it was claimed by England yesterday.

Jordan Pickford's save, diving to his right to push away Josip Drmic's spot-kick attempt, ensured Gareth Southgate's team have finished an uplifting Nations League campaign on a high after beating Switzerland 6-5 on penalties following a goal-less draw.

After his heroics, the goalkeeper said: "It was a very tough game today, and we showed character and belief to get through 120 minutes twice in a few days.

"I was a bit nervous taking my pen but never saving them. When we were practising them, I always seemed to be able to pick my spot... These two games are a lot better than playing two qualifying games (for Euro 2020)."

His teammates had travelled, hoping to secure the inaugural tournament, of course, and the bag of bronze medals which awaited them back in the dressing room would still feel like a consolation prize.

Yet this team still celebrated prevailing in the shoot-out - they are making a happy habit of that these days after beating Colombia from the spot at last year's World Cup.

RESILIENT

It was a very tough game today, and we showed character and belief to get through 120 minutes twice in a few days. I was a bit nervous taking my pen but never saving them. When we were practising them, I always seemed to be able to pick my spot.

JORDAN PICKFORD, England goalkeeper on the Three Lions enduring extra time and a penalty shoot-out to beat Switzerland. Three days earlier, they had lost to the Dutch in extra time in the Uefa Nations League semi-finals.

And had their slick attacking approach play been accompanied by some bite in front of goal, then this match would have been won at a canter.

As it was, it would drag on to subdue even the enthusiasm of those in the stands, a hangover from a slog of a season. At least there was no sting in the tail to endure.

It will have offered Southgate plenty to ponder. England should have established a decisive lead long before half-time, having dominated from the outset, monopolising the ball and carving the Swiss open.

The Three Lions pinged passes to drag opponents out of position, only for poor finishing to repeatedly let them down.

Captain Harry Kane, bursting beyond defender Manuel Akanji before conjuring a first-time chip from an acute angle, had struck the face of the crossbar within 100 seconds of the start, rendering goalkeeper Yann Sommer flat-footed and helpless.

That was an opportunity created from a flash of brilliance. Thereafter, and far too often, England were blunted by profligacy.

While there was plenty to admire in their build-up play, with the Swiss press far less feverish than that whipped up by the Netherlands, the lack of a clinical finish was exasperating.

Raheem Sterling scuffed a shot at goal from Kane's layoff when he should have scored, and when he did connect cleanly with a free kick in the 117th minute, the ball thumped against the crossbar, the woodwork left quivering for a third time.

In between, England contrived ways to pass up everything they created, with Dele Alli, completely unmarked as he met right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold's centre, guided his header and the team's best chance over.

There was also an inevitability that, given their inability to convert what they created, that the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) would end up denying Southgate's men as well.

Six minutes from normal time, Alli looped a header onto the crossbar and substitute Callum Wilson messily shovelled in the loose ball.

The majority inside the arena celebrated with gusto, only for the VAR to penalise his shove on Akanji in the build-up.

All of which generated a new vulgar chant directed at the system for the England support to bellow to the beat of their travelling band, even if that hardly felt like a consolation.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2019, with the headline 'England spot on to earn bronze'. Print Edition | Subscribe