England’s heart is hopeful in Kiev in 2012.
We follow the match on BBC Radio 5 Live as we travel the Gatwick stretch of the M25. The noise of the crowd and the commentary pitch through the car.
Mario Balotelli, Antonio Cassano and Daniele De Rossi attack the English goal. They force the pace and put England on guard.
Then back come England, sweeping a ball into the hands of the Italian goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon. It’s then, with that ball in the hands of ‘superman’ Gigi Buffon, that the dream feels suddenly fragile.
The team in white do fight back but never scatter the blue defence.
Now there’s a new rhythm in the broadcast. It rings to the pulse of Italian names – Riccardo Monolivo, Daniele De Rossi, Alessandro Diamanti. The players seem to bounce between our seats – they claim, they deny and always there is the-everywhere-Andrea-Pirlo. Again and again the Italians pace the ball away from the weary legs of Wayne Rooney. They test and taunt the reactions of John Terry and Steven Gerrard.
Yet somehow England cling on. They don’t give up, they force the game past Kiev’s midnight and on into a penalty shoot-out.
We hold tight to the dream on the M25. It is eery and quiet, but beyond, in the far darkness, we know that on screens everywhere the two teams face the net for the final chance.
We drive in tyre-slick silence as the commentators, hushed then frantic, cover the drama.
First it is misses – two to England and one to Italy.
Then Andrea Pirlo delivers the perfect ball – a measured kick that pushes England’s goalkeeper, Joe Hart, into awkward air…and Italy back into hope.
Step forward Antonio Nocerino and…it’s in.
Then comes Alessandro Diamanti …we do not breathe, but it does not help Joe Hart. The ball slips the keeper…and the Italian fans release a roar to shake Kiev.
Our hopes sink with a hollow thud. That’s it. England has lost.
The dark fits more tightly around the car as we roll on home under the slimmest of moons.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2019