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Gareth Southgate says missed penalty kicks that sparked racist attacks are ‘down to me’

If anyone could identify with the heartbreak Bukayo Saka felt after he missed a critical penalty kick, it was Manager Gareth Southgate. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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The exuberance of England’s appearance in the European Championship final was quickly overtaken by disappointment in a loss to Italy and the ensuing racist attacks aimed at the three Black players who missed penalty kicks.

Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho missed kicks, but it was the final miss by Bukayo Saka that gave Italy the win. The 19-year-old wept, covering his head with his shirt as he was surrounded by his teammates and hugged by Gareth Southgate, the England manager who knows the disappointment of missing a kick in a big game. He sent Rashford and Sancho into the game in the 120th minute with an eye toward penalty kicks.

And he chose to have Saka take what became the last kick of the match, a kick saved by Gianluigi Donnarumma.

“It is down to me,” Southgate said at a Monday news conference. “I decided on the penalty-takers based on what they have done in training. Nobody is on their own. We have won together as a team, and it is on all of us together to not be able to win this game. In terms of penalties, it is my call and it totally rests with me.”

Racist attacks quickly ensued from Internet users and were condemned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Football Association, which said in a statement that “anyone behind such disgusting behavior is not welcome in following the team.” A mural featuring Rashford was vandalized Sunday evening, with racist messages quickly covered up.

Southgate called the abuse his players took “unforgivable” and said supporting them is “at the top of my mind” Monday. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re there and aligned with their club and making sure that we look after those boys, absolutely.”

Southgate knew how gutted Saka felt after missing the kick because he missed a spot kick 25 years ago in a Euro semifinal against Germany. “Every single day now, when I walk down the street, it is always mentioned to me. Of course, it is annoying,” he told FourFourTwo (via Wales online) in 2012. “When you have played for 20 years and that is the first thing people think about you, it is a bit of a downer. Some people still abuse me about it in the street.”

In 2003, he wrote that the missed kick continued to linger.

“I tell myself time has moved on, people aren’t bothered about the penalty any more,” he wrote in an autobiography (via the Guardian), “and then I’m in a hotel lobby and a girl turns to her boyfriend and says: ‘I think that’s the guy that missed the penalty.’

“ ‘Shssh,’ he says, but too late.”

On Sunday, Southgate chose not to have Raheem Sterling, with more experience, take a shot, instead sending Rashford and Sancho in off the bench. Both missed as England fell, 3-2, in the shootout. Southgate called them “the best takers we had left on the pitch.”

On Monday, Harry Kane tweeted that, “last night hurts,” adding: “It’ll hurt for a long time. But we’ve come so far and broken down so many barriers that this is not the end. We win together, lose together and will regroup together for the World Cup. Thanks for all your support this summer.”

Saka was the youngest Englishman to start in a semifinal or final of a major tournament, and he had played well, something forgotten in the moment. “You cannot have any recriminations,” Southgate said. “They have done more than any other team in over 50 years.”