Ben Stokes is all too aware of how “devastated” England’s footballers would have felt following their agonising Euro 2020 final defeat but the talismanic all-rounder has tipped the Three Lions to come back stronger.
Following a 1-1 draw against Italy at Wembley on Sunday night, England came unstuck in a nail-biting penalty shoot-out as Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were unable to convert their spot-kicks in a 3-2 defeat.
Stokes can sympathise and even relate to their feelings given his experience at the 2016 World Twenty20 final, when he was thumped for four successive sixes in a dramatic last over as the West Indies secured a famous win.
Stokes went on to have a monumental role in England’s 50-over World Cup triumph three years later and while he believes there are better days ahead for Gareth Southgate’s side, he thinks they are “absolute legends already”.
While they fell at the final hurdle, Southgate and his players have earned rave reviews for how they have conducted themselves on and off the field during the European Championship, something Stokes was all too eager to highlight.
“They’ll be absolutely devastated tonight and last night, no doubt,” said Stokes, ahead of England’s third and final one-day international against Pakistan on Tuesday.
“But what they’ve managed to achieve over this period of time is incredible. The nation has been completely captured by what they’ve done on the field.
“Everyone in the nation would have loved to see England win but just watching the games you feel a real connection to the team, the way Gareth has led, the way Gareth speaks… I think he’s been phenomenal in everything he’s done.
“Us as a national team alongside them, albeit different sports, we’re just incredibly proud of what they managed to do. It’s such a young team full of talent that the sky is the limit for them.
“There’s so many more years ahead, so many more tournaments to prove themselves in. In my eyes and everybody else’s eyes in this changing room, they are absolute legends already.”
Stokes kept England in the 2019 World Cup final with a nerveless 84 not out then reassured young team-mate Jofra Archer ahead of his star turn in the Super Over by saying: “Win or lose, today does not define you.”
Stokes is optimistic that will be the message passed on to the trio of footballers who missed their penalties in an England squad that had an average age of just 24.8.
“Well, I hope (they’re not defined by it),” Stokes said. “You look at where they’ve gone over the last two or three years and the things they’ve managed to achieve and you know it’s just such a young team.
“They’ve got so much more time on their hands to go out and win trophies for England. And that’s what they’re probably blessed with as youth.
“Never has an England team been so exciting to watch. I’m not massively into my football like some of the other lads are, but I absolutely watched every time they’ve walked out into the field.
“You know they’ll be devastated and they’ll probably hurt for a few more weeks but I’m sure once they get over it and have an understanding of what they’re able to achieve, there will be a lot bigger occasions to come for those guys, no doubt.”