Football does not care for what is “meant to be”. It doesn’t give two hoots for host nations or rank outsiders. It certainly has no regard for whether “it’s coming home” or not. Heroes will be made, and hearts will be broken. Football will remain indifferent. Gareth Southgate learnt this difficult lesson at one of football’s most prestigious tournaments – Euro ’96. But not in vain.

As host nation, England were given no chance of any success in the competition. They were marred as drunken failures, owing to underwhelming form on the pitch and alcohol-fuelled escapades off it. Yet after a stuttering start, Terry Venables’ men were on the path to vindication, having reached the semi-final. An old nemesis, Germany stood in the way of a perfect English summer.

The tense affair resulted in a 1-1 stalemate after extra-time. Victory would be decided by penalty shoot-out. Both teams netted their first five spot-kicks. It was down to sudden death. Nine caps into his international career, Gareth Southgate stepped forward and offered his services. He took the long walk from centre circle to the penalty spot.

Surely, he couldn’t miss. This was Wembley, the Home of Football.

The nation was behind him. Unbeknownst to whom, in stark contrast to the seasoned players that preceded him, of which four were attackers, the young Aston Villa defender had only ever taken one penalty professionally – which he missed. He was out of his depth. The penalty was saved and Andreas Möller went on to shoot Germany into the final which – adding insult to injury – they won.

Thanks to YouTube we can relive the moment over and again – in slow motion should we chose. Upon reflection, it is evident that, through no fault of his own, the 25-year-old was ill-prepared for the task. The shot was neither in a corner nor down the middle into the roof of the goal.

Having hit the post with the only other spot-kick he’d ever taken, it was likely sensible to err on the side of caution and not miss the goal altogether. However, it also significantly reduced the odds of success. The experienced German No.1, Andreas Köpke read the shot correctly.

Yes, should Köpke have dived the other way, at the very least, the story would have been different for Mr Southgate. But was every precaution taken to ensure he had the best chance to score?

In those days little time was dedicated to penalty kick training, long treated as a game of chance for which one could not prepare. When the moment did arise, it was a case of hoping for the best.

Was it then a coincidence that England had the worst record for penalty shoot-outs in competition? With one solitary win against Spain in the Euro ‘96 quarter-final and three of three losses in the World Cup.

England’s first ever World Cup shoot-out success came in the second round of Russia 2018 against Columbia – a tough match that ended in 1-1 after extra time. Under the current England coach, one Gareth Southgate, the approach to penalty shoot-outs has evolved – flipping the notion that “spot-kicks are a lottery” on its head.

In a post-match interview, he explained “I’ve had a couple of decades thinking it through. It’s not about luck. It’s not about chance. It’s about performing a skill under pressure. There are things you can work on, things that can be helpful for the preparation for the players. We have studied it. There is a lot we can do to own the process, and not be controlled by it.”

The philosophical and measured coach described the preparation for penalties as a “project” for which a dedicated team had researched and prepared for weeks. This is more akin to a science than the hit-and-hope attitude of old. An inevitable outcome of the traumatic Euro ’96 experience.

It paid off. Four well-rehearsed clinical penalties and one fabulous save from Jordon Pickford earned England a place in the quarter-final. The pressure must have been immense and Jordan Henderson’s penalty was saved but shoot-outs are about margins. All the hard work and preparation helped gain an edge on the Columbians.

A dark cloud was cast over Gareth Southgate twenty-two years ago. It followed him through his playing, managerial and punditry career – always known as the man who missed in ‘96. He has turned an experience with the potential to destroy a person to his and the national teams advantage. He appears to possess the characteristics and qualities evocative of the ideal England coach.

Naturally, the 47-year-old coach was empathetic and seen consoling young Columbian Mateus Uribe who missed his spot-kick. Not many could relate better on the matter than Southgate – who offered valuable words of support and advice.

Before heading off the pitch he allowed himself a brief moment to celebrate with the fans, his friends and family. Exercising demons of two decades with primal screams of “Come on!” – he sounded like the embodiment of a man who had found redemption.

With the dark cloud of ’96 lifted from his shoulders and England’s World Cup penalty shoot-out curse alleviated, Southgate and his men now march on to meet Sweden at the Samara Arena. The experiences of the Columbia game will have filled the team with confidence, built character and will stand them in good stead for the challenges they are yet to face.

England’s form in the 2018 World Cup, so far offers little indication as to how far they can go. Having already surpassed the nation's expectations, reminiscent of Euro ’96 - the fans are daring to believe, with chants of “It’s coming home!” ringing through the streets.

Maybe that traumatic evening at Wembley set into motion a chain of events that will come to fruition this summer. Maybe, whatever happens – this was always the way it was meant to be.