Italian media promotes outlandish conspiracy theory over penalty

Raheem Sterling wins a penalty for England in the Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark
Raheem Sterling wins a penalty for England in the Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark

While many people have suggested England were lucky to be awarded a penalty in their Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark, Italian newspaper Gazzetta Dello Sport has come up with a curious conspiracy theory.

They claim that the decision was a favour from UEFA to England after Boris Johnson spoke out against a European Super League.

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Football was “one of the great glories of this country’s cultural heritage,” The PM said at the time, adding: “How can it be right when you have a situation where you create a kind of cartel that stops clubs competing against each other?”

Sajid Javid also spoke out, suggesting that Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur should face a tax for joining the ESL.

An array of media and football figures joined Danish fans in condemning the penalty as too cheap for such a big game, some saying England's haughty views on diving looked hypocritical in view of Sterling's tumble at the lightest of touches.

"They always say how bad it is when a foreign player tries to deceive the referee with a dive. In pure English football, this does not happen. Apart from, of course, in a European Championship semi-final," said Spanish newspaper Marca.

"It would be nice for English football to stop giving lectures to the rest of the continent about diving."

The speedy and swerving Sterling, who has been accused of diving before in England's Premier League, went over in the box after minimal contact from Denmark's Joakim Maehle.

Dutch referee Danny Makkelie pointed to the spot and upheld that after briefly consulting the Video Assistant Refereee, though without reviewing the move on the pitchside monitor.

Harry Kane's penalty was saved by Kasper Schmeichel but the captain followed up to score and give England the win.

'FAR TOO CHEAP'

"This was a soft penalty for me ... far too cheap a penalty for a Euro semi-final," ex-referee Jonas Eriksson, who officiated at Euro 2012 and 2016, said on Swedish network SVT.

"I am mostly surprised and annoyed that the VAR doesn't tell the referee. This decides which team goes through."

Sterling himself said after the game it was a clear penalty with his leg clipped. But former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who is now international governing body FIFA's head of global football development, was among those doubting.

"In a moment like that it's important the referee is absolutely convinced it was a penalty. It was not clear enough to say 'yes it is'. He should have at least had a look at the screen," he said on Qatari network beIN Sports.

Roma manager Jose Mourinho went further, telling radio station Talksport "For me, it's never a penalty" even though he said the best team won and he was happy for England.

Denmark might also have felt aggrieved by the fact a second ball was on the pitch when Sterling entered the area, which according to regulations could have led to play being halted.

Adding insult to injury, a fan shone a laser pen on Schmeichel as he prepared to face Kane's penalty.

"They won with a penalty which was a blatant dive," fumed former Germany player and pundit Dietmar Hamann. "England always prides itself on being the home of fair play and no diving."

Elsewhere, France's L'Equipe newspaper said England had only breached the Danish defence with "a questionable, not least generous, penalty".

"It's diving home," tweeted Italian journalist Tancredi Palmeri in a sarcastic reference to England's football anthem "It's coming home."