England 0 – 0 Italy (2-4 pens): The Inevitability of Death

There’s something oddly comforting about England going out of a major international tournament on penalties. It’s a constant in a ever-changing universe; this is the sixth time in my life that it’s happened, 2012’s quarter-final loss to Italy following in the footsteps of penalty shootout losses in 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, and 2006. England’s penalty futility is quite remarkable. There’s really no explanation for it, although it’s starting to seem obvious there’s something insidious at work within the national team psyche.

The nice thing about this year’s defeat, apart from the fact that Italy deserved to win, is that England ended up more-or-less exactly where they should’ve ended up. This team wasn’t going to win the tournament, not with Germany and (likely) Spain standing in their way. A crop of promising young players is coming of age, and England should be a better side in Brazil in two years’ time–but for now a quarter-finals exit is just about right. Personally, I was far less involved with England’s fortunes this time around. It made for a refreshing change: I was able to appreciate each of their matches on their own merits, and after grumbling about their defeat for a few minutes I carried on with my day. It’s a pleasant change from how I was in, say, 2006. It also means I can officially start looking forward to the English domestic season, which kicks off in under two months.

Ultimately, I shouldn’t known that England were doomed on Friday night. I don’t typically believe in signs–but on Friday I was stopped at a red light when a friend pulled up beside me. I rolled down the passenger side window to say hello, completely forgetting about the England car flag I was flying. The light went green, I drove off…and next thing I knew the flag was bouncing down 24th Avenue. I didn’t pull over and run back to get it; instead I recognized that the flag, along with the England team, was doomed, and went home to watch a movie. Sometimes it’s better just to heed the universe’s warnings.

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