Neil Humphreys: Nerves, not penalties, to blame for England's Euro U-21 exit
At all levels, England just cannot hold on to a lead
Cue the soppy soundtrack, the teary-eyed montages and flashbacks to the ghosts of penalties past.
England went out of a major tournament again, in the semi-finals, to the Germans, those dastardly Teutonic terriers with anti-freeze in their blood.
The Young Lions conformed to the comforting narrative of failure once more, losing 4-3 on penalties after a gallant 2-2 draw in the Euro Under-21 semi-finals yesterday morning (Singapore time).
A nation has an opportunity to wrap itself in the security blanket of martyrdom once more.
Like an unmasked villain in Scooby Doo, they would've gotten away with it, if it wasn't for those pesky kids from Germany.
Such jingoistic nonsense offers a pitiable balm to soothe another infuriating defeat by opponents who were superior from first minute to last penalty kick.
The truth is England cannot hold on to leads in major tournaments.
Young or old, give the Lions a slender advantage and they'll hold on with all the conviction of an elephant's trunk clinging to a daisy on the side of a mountain.
After the defeat, coach Aidy Boothroyd claimed that his side had done everything to beat Germany until the last penalty flew past Jordan Pickford.
But the reality was quite the opposite.
The Young Lions did everything to not lose to the Germans, a subtle but pivotal difference that separated them from their opponents.
Against the run of the play, Tammy Abraham put England 2-1 ahead in the 50th minute, benefiting from the Germans' uncharacteristic slackness at the back. Then Boothroyd's apprehensive charges stopped playing.
In central midfield, James Ward-Prowse and Lewis Baker, England's nominal No. 10, dropped back so far, they played footsie with the back four.
Abraham was up front alone, left to chase long balls and lost causes.
This was England's overriding tactic, their only tactic for the next 70 minutes, including extra time, against a team that re-programmed their coaching philosophy at the turn of the century to never play in such a cynical fashion.
From the dugout to the pitch, England's subconscious sense of inferiority, that nagging realisation that their youngsters lack the technical competence of their opponents, make it nigh on impossible to hang on to a narrow advantage.
Boothroyd's boys parked the bus and pumped high balls. That was about it.
With Ward-Prowse and Baker reduced to baby-sitting duties, England's ragged diamond disintegrated, leaving their midfield with all the strength and consistency of cold custard.
In other words, England went ahead and then immediately handed the initiative to the Germans. From their fullback positions, Yannick Gerhardt and Jeremy Toljan danced along the flanks. Only negligent finishing denied the Germans a routine victory.
Of course, England's penalty problem doesn't help. They drag their abysmal shoot-out record from one tournament to another like a rusty ball and chain.
Stuart Pearce's Under-21s also lost on penalties at the same stage 10 years ago.
England's tournament exits, via the shoot-out, are essentially a depressing re-staging of Groundhog Day.
There was 2012, 2006, 2004, 1998, 1996 and 1990 for any masochists keeping count.
But England paid a bigger penalty for their longstanding inability to produce enough players - and managers - who were competent or confident enough to play their way to victory.
The Lions remain unable - or unwilling - to stop the ball and retain possession long enough to prevail.
This wasn't an unlucky one -off, but the latest collapse in a tournament history littered with early booms and eventual busts.
At Euro 2000, the senior Lions took the lead against Romania and Portugal and were still sent packing.
Ronaldinho's freakishly looped goal over David Seaman remains the highlight from the 2002 World Cup quarter-final against Brazil.
Hardly anyone remembers that England had actually gone ahead.
Just as they had against France and Portugal at Euro 2004. They went on to lose both matches.
At the 2010 World Cup, they stumbled to a draw after leading against the United States and repeated the untidy trick against France at Euro 2012.
England reached their nadir, perhaps, last year in France.
They threw away an early lead against Iceland at Euro 2016, exchanging their advantage for one of their most humiliating defeats in history.
The Young Lions' loss against Germany yesterday morning wasn't unlucky.
Nor was it just another random spin on the penalty-spot wheel of misfortune.
Boothroyd's boys succumbed to inherent technical, tactical and psychological weaknesses that have handicapped the England camp for decades.
On a football pitch, the Lions rarely sing when they're winning. They prefer to panic instead.
OTHER SEMI-FINAL RESULT
- Spain 3 Italy 1