Connect with us

Sports

It might be coming home for England   – Sportsnet.ca

Published

on

It might be coming home for England   – Sportsnet.ca

And then there were two. 

After Spain booked its passage through to the finals of Euro 2024 on Tuesday, England successfully navigated a tight semifinal on Wednesday against the Netherlands to set up a meeting with the Spanish this weekend. 

Xavi Simons’s early strike for the Dutch was cancelled out by Harry Kane’s equaliser via a controversial penalty decision, before substitute Ollie Watkins scored a late winner for the Three Lions. 

Here’s a recap of Wednesday’s Euro 2024 action.   

THE RESULT   

Netherlands 1, England 2 in Dortmund: Match report || Match stats  

MAIN TALKING POINTS   

It might be coming home for England  

England has reached the semifinals of three of its four major tournaments under manager Gareth Southgate (2018 World Cup, Euro 2020 and 2024), after failing to reach the final four in any of their nine tournament appearances between 1998 and 2016. Safe to say that it might finally be “coming home” for England, who found another gear on Wednesday in Dortmund after labouring through its previous five contests of this competition.

The last time these nations met at a major international tournament was at Euro 1996 when the English hammered the Dutch 4-1 in a group stage game at Wembley Stadium. Southgate was in the starting 11 for the Three Lions on the day, helping his country secure a famous win. Twenty-eight years later, the former Aston Villa defender inspired his team to victory with a late-game substitution that proved to be a masterstroke. 

With the game tied at 1-1 and seemingly headed to extra time, Southgate pulled off veteran forward Harry Kane, the nation’s all-time top scorer, with nine minutes left in regulation. It was a bold move considering the Bayern Munich star equalized from the penalty spot in the 18th minute and had been England’s best player up to that point.

His replacement Ollie Watkins made the most of the opportunity, using his fresh legs to run at and unbalance the Dutch defenders. Then in the 88th minute, fellow substitute Cole Palmer (a replacement for Phil Foden) fed Watkins who fought off a Dutch defender inside the box and beat goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen with a low, angled shot at the far post.

Southgate’s double substitution turned the game in England’s favour, allowing them to win their first major tournament semifinal on foreign soil for the first time in their history. England’s resilience has been one of the stories of Euro 2024, having now won three consecutive knockout games with a come-from-behind effort.

Heartbreaks for the Dutch  

In 1988, the Netherlands conquered all by defeating the Soviet Union in the Euro finals in Munich, highlighted by Marco van Basten’s iconic wonder strike. Van Basten finished as the tournament’s top scorer and was one of six Dutch players who ended up being named to the tournament’s best XI. Included in that list was PSV Eindhoven defender Ronald Koeman, who scored the equalizer in the Netherlands’ come-from-behind win over hosts West Germany in the semifinals. 

Thirty-six years later, Koeman was on the touchline on Wednesday as the master tactician of the Dutch team who was on the verge of becoming only the second man to win the European Championship as both a player and a manager — Germany’s Berti Vogts turned the trick in 1972 and 1996. But Vogts won’t have any company, at least for the time being as the Netherlands let an early lead slip through their fingers against England.

You won’t mistake this current Dutch side with the vintage team of 1988. That squad was led by the triple-axis of Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, but genuine quality ran throughout the squad. The roster that Koeman oversees is a combination of talented attack merchants (most notably Cody Gakpo) and hardworking grafters such as Virgil van Dijk and Wout Weghorst. But it lacks genuine gamebreakers of the highest quality. Oh, how they could have used such a player against England.

AMAZING STATISTIC  

English manager Gareth Southgate showed great faith in Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo throughout Euro 2024, giving the youngster his first competitive appearance in the team’s opening match of the tournament and calling upon him in the semifinals: 

BEST GOAL 

In the seventh minute, Xavi Simons won the ball off England’s Declan Rice and then went on a fabulous, penetrating run before unleashing a rocket of a shot from just outside the 18-yard box into the top left corner that goalkeeper Jordan Pickford had no chance of stopping. 

PHOTO OF THE DAY 

Denzel Dumfries’ goal-line clearance on England’s Phil Foden in the first half was spectacular.  

THREE STARS OF THE DAY   

1. Ollie Watkins (England): The Aston Villa forward replaced Harry Kane in the 81st minute and seven minutes later netted the winner to send England through to the final.  

2. Xavi Simons (The Netherlands): Opened the scoring with a goal of the tournament candidate and was a constant thorn in the English defence’s side.

3. Harry Kane (England): Effectively led the line for England before being subbed out late in the game, but not before converting from the penalty spot for his sixth career goal in the European Championship knockout rounds (a tournament record).

LOOKING AHEAD   

Sunday’s Euro 2024 final at Berlin’s Olympiastadion pits two giants of European football against each other. While Spain is vying to claim a record fourth Euro title, England is attempting to be crowned champions of Europe for the very first time. Their previous encounter came in the 2018-19 UEFA Nations League group stage when England earned a 3-2 win in Seville.  

La Roja have been the class of this tournament so far, finishing first in a tough group that included Italy and Croatia, and then defeating hosts Germany in the quarter-finals and world No. 2 France in the semifinals. Spain is a perfect 6-0 at Euro, so they’ll enter Sunday’s final as the favourite.  

But don’t discount the English who have come from behind to win in each of their three knockout-round matches. Gareth Southgate’s side laboured through the group stage but still managed to top its group. Unimpressive showings in the round of 16 and quarter-finals still saw the Three Lions emerge victorious over Slovakia and Switzerland before they beat the Netherlands. 

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer. TFC Republic can be found here.

Continue Reading