It was left to Roy Keane to lift England's spirits, last night 2 months ago

It was left to Roy Keane to lift England's spirits, last night

"An amazing night. A brilliant night of football."

If any of the England fans were still watching ITV to see Italy celebrate at Wembley or raise the Henri Delaunay trophy aloft, they may not agreed with Roy Keane about how "amazing" it all was.

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One hopes, though, that they keep watching and listening, as the former Manchester United and Ireland captain had lots of positives to cling to. With Gary Neville saying England players needed 'a cuddle' and Ian Wright a spent man, it was left to Keane to lift the spirits of a wounded nation.

The man, in all fairness to him, gave it a good go.

First off, we had Keane praising the five players from both sides that raised their arms, or voices, the highest and took on the responsibility of trying to win Euro 2020 for their country.

"Someone is always going to miss a penalty," he reflected, "but it is not a night to be critical of any England players, Gareth or his staff. Instead of criticising players that missed, I admire them for stepping up. And all credit goes to both goalkeepers for making some brilliant saves."

That's right, even Jordan Pickford - Keane's old pin-cushion - was getting praise from the wily perfectionist.

Jordan Pickford reacts after saving a penalty during the shoot-out against Italy. (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)
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As fans filtered back out to Wembley Way, we only had the distant ruckus and cheering from the Italian fans at the far end of the stadium.

Keane had spoken, pre-match, about how taking that final step, from challengers to winners, was always the hardest one to pull off. He returned to that theme and offered hope for some supporters ahead of next year's World Cup.

"A tough night for England, but sometimes you have to lose to win," he said. "The World Cup is only around the corner and these players will be the better for it. But you have to take your medicine and move on."

ITV dipped back to pitch-side reporters for their interviews with devastated England players, and their boss, Gareth Southgate, and Keane emphatised with how tough those immediate reaction chats could be.

"Those lads and Gareth are being asked about the next World Cup. These guys need a break. They need time with their families - go on holiday, recharge the batteries.

"It's just about players learning and maturing. There's nothing majorly wrong. The downside for Gareth Southgate would be they lost [their lead] to a set-piece.

"We see a player [Bukayo Saka] there with their family. This is where family comes into it. Listen, we all love the game. Everyone wants to win, but... it's tough... tough on the kid."

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Keane was always known as a winners-takes-all sort of player but you could feel the discomfort in his voice as he looked at the images of a tearful Saka.

When he was assistant coach of Ireland, back during Euro 2016, Keane delivered one memorable press conference where we spoke about players being brave and demanding the ball. Wanting that pressure and dealing with it.

It was no surprise, then, to hear him speaking so glowingly about West Ham midfielder Declan Rice.

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"Rice," he added, "is only 22 years of age. He is going to get better, of course he is. He's going to improve in terms of what he does in possession, particularly. Kalvin Phillips, two seasons ago he was in the Championship. He'll get better. He's only 25.

"Sometimes you need that experience of more games under your belt. Bigger games. There's nothing major wrong with England.

"The last step is the biggest step for every team, to win the big prizes. They just came up short."

That last step. That poxy last step. England fans went to bed, no doubt, wondering if their team would ever get there.

They wake up today with the World Cup 497 days away and still the fans of a damn good football team. It will still hurt for a while yet but Roy Keane still reckons this team is made of the right stuff.

Whoever would have thought Keane would be the one to try rally some bruised English pride.

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