SOME things it seems even Gareth Southgate cannot change. Another brave England performance, another agonising night for the nation. The players were younger, less experienced but a much more relatable bunch than their predecessors, but still that was not enough. Jordan Pickford looked like being the hero, saving from Andrea Belotti and Jorginho to keep England in it after Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho missed.
But Bukayo Saka – the embodiment of Southgate’s young England, saw his final kick saved and that was it.
Still that major crown remains determinedly elusive and it is Italy who can lay claim to being kings of Europe as they paraded the trophy in front of their delighted fans.
In 1966, the young Queen was here in person to hand out the football honours.
This time she sent the future of the Royal Family in the shape of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George… and a message.
“I send my good wishes with the hope that history will record not only your success but also the spirit, commitment and pride with which you have conducted yourselves,” she wrote in a letter of Gareth Southgate.
No scoreline alone – whether it is positive or negative – is ever going to reflect that, but safe to say, Your Majesty, it is a night that always should certainly be remembered for all those qualities.
From the opening ceremony, it was a night that – when the emotional roller-coaster, which must eventually grind to a halt at some point during today’s national hangover – should have filled everybody with patriotic hope.
The chimes of Big Ben. The Red Arrows, the Coldstream Guards and now the England football team.
After all, it took them just two minutes to showcase their very best qualities.
World class skipper Harry Kane saw the opportunity and spread the ball wide to Kieran Trippier whose pin-point cross was met by his opposite wing-back Shaw on the half-volley, right on the laces and the ball scraped the post at it flew straight in.
Roberto Carlos could not have finished it better.
Wembley went wild, up and down the country beers were thrown and in the Royal Box David Beckham and Tom Cruise performed an unexpected fist bump.
Such A-list celebrity is the England of old, though – a throwback to those more lacklustre exits of the Sven-Goran Eriksson era.
Southgate has put together more of a young ensemble cast, and for as long as they could they put on a very believable portrayal of a team who were in command of the game.
Shape was maintained, balls were chased down and every time Italy tried to play an intricate pass around the edge of the England area, a white figure ghosted into position to intercept.
However, this was the first time in over two years that Italy had even been behind and it was clear that they did not like it.
Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Chiesa were inevitably England’s chief tormentors – the latter beating Shaw in the 35th minute and firing just wide.
Ciro Immobile finally got involved, too, just before the break, firing a sharp shot at John Stones he knew very little about.
Clearly this was going to be a big half for England – the biggest for half a century.
Raheem Sterling fell in the box in the opening minutes but after the fuss made about the Denmark penalty was never going to get an award.
Pickford was properly tested by Chiesa for the first time in the 62nd minute as Italy continued to crank up the pressure.
Increasingly it was beginning to look like England were going to need to score again and Stones did come close with a header from a corner.
Then Italy finally broke England’s resolve from a corner of their own.
Pickford pushed Verratti’s header onto the post, but Leonardo Bonuccio was in the perfect place to bundle the rebound in.
Now what was this England team really made of?
The excellent Declan Rice was replaced by Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson and Bukayo Saka was thrown into the fray.
Old head; young legs.
The inevitable extra time was always going to be a test of both.
What England really needed was the ball, and Italy were not giving it to them much any more. Perhaps Jack Grealish could rectify that?
England were hanging on with some brave goalkeeping from Pickford but not even the Aston Villa maestro could save us from another shootout.