Commiserations as football triumph eludes England

British newspapers, royalty and government figures unite in praise for Three Lions

Crestfallen England football fans hailed their team's footballers as heroes on Monday after their dramatic defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

England's stirring run to the final was credited with widening the team's appeal and lifting the country's spirits after the misery of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But they were unable to end a 55-year wait for a major trophy after the final at Wembley in London ended with the familiar heartbreak of defeat in a penalty shootout.

As Italy celebrated, dejected England fans filed out of the stadium and a fan zone in the city's Trafalgar Square.

Supporters rallied round the side and praised the team for inspiring the country as they looked ahead to next year's World Cup in Qatar.

"You've all come so far, but sadly this time it wasn't our day," said the UK's Prince William. "You can all hold your heads high, and be so proud of yourselves - I know there’s more to come."

Images of England manager Gareth Southgate consoling Bukayo Saka dominated the front pages of British newspapers on Monday, after the young Arsenal winger's penalty miss handed Italy the trophy.

It is 25 years since Southgate missed a penalty against Germany in the semi-finals Euro 1996, making him a briefly despised figure among England fans who continue to be starved of success.

"Penalties curse denies England their dream," The Times said, underlying the national side's unenviable record from the spot at major tournaments.

"This is going to hurt," said a headline in The Daily Telegraph, summing up the mood of the country after the nail-biting 3-2 penalty shoot-out, after the two sides were level at 1-1 after extra-time.

"So close," said The Guardian.

But newspapers, royalty and government figures were united in praise for the team for their performances during the tournament.

"Lions did us proud," the Metro said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was also at Wembley, wearing a white England jersey over his shirt and tie, said the team played "like heroes".

"They have done the nation proud and deserve great credit," Mr Johnson said.

Mr Johnson condemned racist abuse aimed at the three England players who missed in the shootout and said they should instead be "lauded as heroes".

The Sun tabloid, one of the team's main media cheerleaders, headlined its front page "Pride of Lions", alongside an image Southgate consoling teenager Saka.

And with the much-needed optimism of England supporters, who last tasted tournament success at the World Cup in 1966, it looked to the 2022 finals in Qatar.

"England lose on pens again but never mind lads, the World Cup is only next year," it said.

The Sun's Scottish edition could not help having a dig at the "Auld Enemy" with a headline inspired by TV commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme's famous line, "They think it's all over. It is now," as Geoff Hurst scored the winner against West Germany in 1966.

"They think it's all over. It is ciao," the newspaper said, alongside an image of jubilant Italian players.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the UK's main opposition Labour Party, echoed the pride many felt in the England players, who mended the teams's reputation for underperforming at major tournaments.

In a nod to striker Marcus Rashford's campaign to press the government into providing the poorest schoolchildren with free school meals, and forward Raheem Sterling's anti-racism drive, Mr Starmer said: "This team is the very best of our country."

Former UK prime minister Theresa May reflected on how the team "lifted the spirits of millions" after the misery of repeated lockdowns and a high Covid-19 death toll.

"Your talent, commitment to one another and dedication to our country has been inspirational," she wrote on Twitter.

Updated: July 12th 2021, 1:38 PM