Arry Kane’s missed penalty will go down in history as England’s haunting and heartbreaking moments – up there with Bukayo Saka last summer, Chris Waddle, Gareth Southgate and all that – but the moment didn’t conform to a impressive display of defeat.
On the eve of the World Cup quarter-final against France, Kane urged his teammates to have no regrets and leave everything on the pitch, but reminded them that this is football. “You can lose being the best team,” said the captain.
It was England’s fate at the Al Bayt Stadium, and Kane will carry huge regret from now on, most likely for the rest of his life.
Like Southgate himself, who lived with the pain of his missed penalty at Euro 96 for decades, it may be years before Kane is freed from that burden.
In more ways than one, his 84th-minute penalty after a foul on Mason Mount came with unique pressures: to score and he would surpass Wayne Rooney as England’s top scorer with 54 goals for his country, but he faced his teammate Hugo Lloris for 12 yards for the second time in the evening, having already equalized on the spot.
Maybe the individual duel with a goalkeeper he knows so well played a role or maybe it was the prospect of the record, or the pressure of the situation?
Either way, blazing wildly over the bar seemed unusual, especially given the quality of England’s performance against the world champions.
This defeat was not like four years ago against Croatia or even the loss to Italy on penalties last summer, when Southgate’s side finally succumbed to a tactically and technically superior side.
For at least an hour they were better than France but were undone by two magnificent moments, Aurélien Tchouameni’s crier to open the scoring in the 17th minute and Olivier Giroud’s winning goal 12 minutes from time . The former Arsenal and Chelsea striker headed home a sublime cross from Antoine Griezmann, via the slightest touch from Harry Maguire.
Both goals seemed like the kind of moment it was hard to legislate against but underlined why France are champions and are now preparing for a semi-final against Morocco on Wednesday. They have the know-how and the quality to be decisive, even in second position.
England were frustrated by Lloris – who made several fine saves, including a spectacular effort to keep Jude Bellingham out of the way – and referee Wilton Sampaio.
The Brazilian finally got the right sanctioning decisions, albeit the latter after checking his pitch side monitor on the advice of VAR but dismissed another strong call from Kane and gave next to nothing all night. Bukayo Saka, who won the first free kick, was particularly roughed up.
Maguire hit the outside of the post with a header and Marcus Rashford fired a free kick an inch over the bar in the dying seconds.
England deserved better.
The loss was made all the more painful as Southgate finally did what most England fans have long been asking for by naming an attacking side in a big game.
The manager went with an unchanged XI and a 4-3-3, reflecting England’s belief that France had as much to worry about as their players. Southgate will always be judged on results, but their approach was effective and Kylian Mbappe was largely kept under wraps by Kyle Walker as England posed the most significant attacking threat of the night.
If England could be said to be exposed, it was for France’s first goal, however, when Walker was caught high up the pitch in front of Tchouameni’s brilliant strike.
Southgate’s 4-3-3 relies on the width of the full-backs in the final third which always risked leaving Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele unguarded.
But England came back into the game on the front foot, the excellent Saka deservedly winning his first penalty nine minutes into the second half after being fouled by Tchouameni.
Kane converted to level with Rooney but it was his second kick, after Mount was knocked down by Theo Hernandez, who will be remembered.
There will now inevitably be an autopsy and questions about Southgate and England remain, despite their performances.
Under the coach, they have now beaten Colombia, Sweden, Germany, Ukraine, Denmark and Senegal in knockout matches, and lost to Croatia, Italy and France.
Of their victories, only one was over an elite nation, the Germans, and that came at Wembley and against a side at the end of a cycle under Joachim Loew and who would go on to suffer a second straight group stage exit at this Mondial Cup.
Given England’s modern history at major tournaments, no knockout victory should be sniffed at and there’s no shame in losing to world champions, especially like this one.
But this game felt like a litmus test of how far England have come and how keen they are to dethrone France as Southgate and the team believed.
Ultimately, they failed when the opportunity presented itself, still leaving us to wonder if their time will ever come.