ENG 2-1 NED, Euro 2024: Bravery Pays Off For Southgate As England's Super Subs Come Good Once More

Like his changes worked against Switzerland; like they worked against Slovakia, when Ivan Toney helped turn the tide, Southgate's substitutions worked again

England's bravery was rewarded

Where did England's tournament start to turn? (More Football News)

Was it with Jude Bellingham's stunning overhead kick against Slovakia?

Was it with Bukayo Saka's exquisite equaliser against Switzerland?

Was it when Jordan Pickford and Trent Alexander-Arnold dragged them over the line in the shootout?

Or what about seven minutes into Wednesday's meeting with the Netherlands, when Xavi Simons cannoned in the earliest goal scored in a Euros semi-final since Alan Shearer scored for England against Germany in 1996?

Strange, perhaps, but it was that goal that seemed to see the shackles finally come off for the Three Lions. They had stuttered and staggered their way through Euro 2024, but eventually that approach can, and almost certainly will, come unstuck.

Yet after that Simons strike had rifled in beyond Pickford, a fire seemed to spark in England's bellies. 

This was the time it had to come good. It was do or die. And for much of Wednesday's clash in Dortmund, England were the better side and, arguably for the first time in the tournament, deserved victors.

It did not come easy, of course. Harry Kane pulled them level from the spot after a contentious VAR decision in the 18th minute. Phil Foden had a deft touch cleared off the line and saw the post deny him a wondergoal. 

One of the criticisms aimed at Gareth Southgate has been his use of Foden, but a switch of system in the quarter-final saw the Premier League's Player of the Season truly arrive in Germany. In the first half, he completed all 27 of his passes, and had the most shots (three). Behind him, Kobbie Mainoo, the youngest player to feature for England in the semi-finals of a major tournament, dovetailed brilliantly with Declan Rice.

The second half was a different story. Ronald Koeman reacted, the Dutch shored things up in midfield. They had the best chances, looking dangerous from set-pieces.


For long swathes of the second period, it looked as though the fear of losing had come back to freeze England, to grip Southgate and his players. Were they playing for extra time? Had that bravery gone?

But at the right time, Southgate turned to his bench. Kane, now the record goalscorer in the knockout stage at the Euros, made way for Ollie Watkins. Foden went off to be replaced by Cole Palmer. Bukayo Saka had just seen a goal disallowed, though extra time seemed to be beckoning.

And like his changes worked against Switzerland; like they worked against Slovakia, when Ivan Toney helped turn the tide, Southgate's substitutions worked again.

Watkins stretched the Dutch defence, Palmer threaded through an inch-perfect pass. Watkins spun Stefan de Vrij and, with a swish of his right boot, from the tightest of angles, picked out the opposite corner with a finish that came with an expected goals value of just 0.1.

It is only the second 90th-minute winning goal in a European Championship knockout tie. Timed at 89:59, it was the latest winning goal scored in the semi-final at the Euros or Wolrd Cup (excluding extra time).

It was also England's only shot on target in the second half of this match.

But the bravery was there. The intent was there from the moment England went behind. 

"It's something that is built through failure, through the first few games that didn’t go so well, but it's important you build that fire and build some sort of resistance through it. It's important we came together," said Bellingham, whose lung-busting run down the left in the dying seconds helped get England over the line.

"These moments are great – it brings us together as a team and a family, because of that you get stronger. They make us more together, it's about taking that into the final now."

England are together. They have now reached the final in two of their four major tournaments under Southgate (also Euro 2020) – they had only done so in one of their previous 23 World Cup/Euros appearances.

They finished this match with 1.3 xG to the Dutch's 0.56. They had more shots (nine to seven) and more touches in the opponent's box (19 to 11). They were better. Now, they are on the brink of history. Spain stand in their way.