As England fell deeper and deeper in the second half, as they succumbed to the same problem holding a lead that had beset them against Colombia and Croatia in the World Cup, the temptation was to wonder if anything had really changed. Why do England so often take the lead in big games and end up turning in on themselves so often, as if every battle had to be turned into a reenactment of the Khartoum defense by General Gordon?
But that may be unfair, or at least to oversimplify the matter. That England failed to keep a lead – again – doesn’t mean that caution was the wrong approach, at least from the start. Southgate’s strength in this tournament has been to develop specific plans for specific games. And for over an hour here it worked. It seemed for a time that England was going to contain Italy. A replacement brought in a little earlier, perhaps, and this slow, doomed retreat might not have happened. But then the best-laid plans can go wrong: The two players Southgate specifically brought in on penalties have both missed.