Friday, July 12, 2024

England vs. Netherlands score: Ollie Watkins fires Gareth Southgate’s side into Euro 2024 final

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Ollie Watkins fired England into their first major tournament final on foreign soil, an inspired change by Gareth Southgate delivering a 2-1 win over the Netherlands that will rank as the greatest since 1966.

After a spluttering, heavy-legged run to the semifinals, England were brilliant, resilient and proactive in overturning Xavi Simons opener to send a nation into rapture. Fortune favored them with a contentious penalty but for once this summer, England put themselves in a position to forge lucky breaks for themselves.

A match between two of Euro 2024’s most attritional big teams always felt like it would take something special to get it going. Simons delivered exactly that. A loose clearance put pressure on Declan Rice but a midfielder of his quality could have shone more muscularity or even cynicism to keep the ball from his opponent.

Had one of the English defenders been more live to the danger then Simons’ appetite might have been quelled. Instead, the goal opened up invitingly for him, Jordan Pickford only able to get a glove on the thunderous strike.

Yet again England came to life when thrust into a deficit. They had started brightly in Dortmund but hit by far their greatest heights of the tournament so far in pursuing parity. First Kane fizzed at goal from range, Bart Verbruggen doing well to save, before he was the beneficiary of a neat build-up from Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka.

His snapshot over the bar seemed to be where the move ended, the England captain aggrieved by late contact from Denzel Dumfries but most of the view that the Dutch right back was merely competing for the ball. VAR Bastian Dankert and then Felix Zwayer thought differently, however, and Kane drew England level from the spot.

They might have had more. The fearless Phil Foden, at last looking like the player he is in a Manchester City shirt, glided away from Virgil van Djik and  Nathan Ake, rolling the ball through Verbruggen’s legs only for Dumfries to clear off the line. The Dutch right back would hit the bar with a header off a corner before the half was out, Foden responding moments later with a rasping left-footed drive off the upright.

It seemed like more chances would come for England, dominant in midfield with Kobbie Mainoo driving them on. Ultimately an injury to star forward Memphis Depay came at a fortunate time for Ronald Koeman, who was able to introduce Joey Veerman to plug gaps in midfield that would not appear in the second half.

England stuttered with the Dutch having limited their supply lines through the middle. With 80 minutes playing, you could sense the familiar grumbles of a nation. Southgate, even having brought on Luke Shaw at the interval, had left his changes too late.

Timing hardly mattered when the substitutions worked out as well as they did. Out came Kane and the dwindling Foden, on came Cole Palmer and Watkins to exploit an increasingly stretched match.

Declan Rice’s pass up the Dutch gut found the former, who picked out Watkins with his back to goal in the area. Stefan de Vrij could not stop the Aston Villa man spinning him. Verbruggen had no chance at denying a shot that flew inexorably into the bottom corner. The most significant goal England have scored in 58 years? For now, at least.

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