Watkins winner sends England into dreamland

England v Netherlands – UEFA Euro 2024 Semi-Final – BVB Arena, Dortmund – Report

England 2-1 Netherlands

Sub Ollie Watkins’ ninetieth-minute winner sent England through to a 2-1 victory over Holland in Berlin as the Three Lions reached their second successive Euro Final – where they will play Spain in Berlin on Sunday.

England made one change following the quarter-final win on penalties over Switzerland in Dusseldorf with Crystal Palace’s Marc Guehi returning from a one-match suspension to replace Ezri Konsa at centre-back.

Ronald Koeman brought Donyell Mallen into his starting line-up in place of Steven Bergwijn – the Dutch having been unchanged in their previous two knockout matches in the competition.

After a raucous and rousing rendition of the national anthems, the match kicked off with smoke from the pre-match fireworks still hanging in the air and both sets of fans creating an intense wall of noise inside the stadium, just seven minutes in Xavi Simons dispossessed Declan Rice on the edge of the box before taking a touch and unleashing an unstoppable shot into the right-hand corner of the net past Jordan Pickford to put the Dutch 1-0 up.

Following excellent work by Saka, Harry Kane went down injured after firing just over the crossbar following what appeared at first sight to be an innocuous challenge by Denzel Dumfries. Having been advised by VAR referee Bastian Dankert to review the play on the TV monitor, referee Felix Zwayer awarded England a penalty – in addition to showing Dankert a yellow card.

Kane brushed aside his poor form in the tournament to date, to confidently stride forward and draw a deep breath before drilling his spot-kick deep into the bottom left corner of the net to draw the Three Lions level in the eighteenth minute.

Buoyed by the equaliser, clever close control by Phil Foden saw the Manchester City man wriggle past the lead-footed Dutch defence and into the box before seeing his shot stopped on the goal-line and hacked away to safety by Dumfries.

Kobbie Mainoo won the ball well out wide before threading the ball through to the ever-industrious Foden to look up before curling a magnificent effort against the far post from twenty-five yards out as the Three Lions continued to take the game to Holland.   

Despite England looking energetic and completely dominating play, Dumfries went close to putting the Dutch 2-1 up after clattering a powerful header against the crossbar just before the half-hour mark.

Just before half time, a clever back heel from Mainoo again provided the outstanding Foden with a clear goalscoring opportunity, only for keeper Bart Verbruggen to react well and pull off a fine save.

Southgate replaced Kieran Trippier with Luke Shaw as England reverted to a back four following the break.

Despite the Three Lions moving the ball well at the start of the second half, Holland were content to sit in, stifle the play and completely take the momentum away from the English, however just after the hour mark, Virgil van Dijk, timing his run perfectly, got on the end of a curling free kick into the English box – only to see his power header spectacularly pushed out for a corner by Pickford.

With the game having changed so dramatically and England looking very much ‘on the back foot’ for most of the half, Bakaya Saka finished clinically from close range in the seventy-ninth minute – only for the ‘goal’ to be ruled out for offside.

Southgate introduced Aston Villa’s Ollie Watkins and Cole Palmer in place of Kane and Foden straight after but with the Dutch at that point looking the likelier of the two sides to score, having carved open the England defence Wout Weghorst fashioned a great opportunity for himself – only for Gueli to get back to cover before the former Manchester United loanee was able to connect properly with the ball.

With the game entering the ninetieth minute and looking to be heading for extra time, Palmer found fellow substitute Watkins just inside the box to turn Stefan de Vrij before expertly finishing low and hard into the left-hand corner past Verbruggen to win the game and to the delight of their fans – both those inside the stadium and watching at home – send England to their second successive Euro Final, where they will play Spain in Berlin on Sunday (8pm).

Despite Southgate having plastic glasses thrown at him, the team being booed off in both Frankfurt and Cologne, being just seconds away from elimination and constantly criticised in the media – yet again, England came through to find a way to win and although the Spanish will undoubtedly be the favourites – maybe, just maybe all these years on since Bobby Moore lifted the World Cup in 1966 and all the false dawns since it would be a brave man or woman who would bet against ‘football coming home’ this Sunday.   

England: Pickford, Walker, Stones, Guehi, Trippier (Shaw 46’) Mainoo (Gallagher 93’) Rice, Saka (Konsa 93’) Bellingham, Foden (Palmer 80’) Kane (Capt) (Watkins 81’) Subs not used: Alexander-Arnold, Ramsdale, Dunk, Toney, Gordon, Bowen, Eze, Gomez, Henderson, Wharton

Netherlands: Verbruggen, Ake, van Dijk (Cap) De Vrij, Simons (Brobbey 93’) Depay (Veerman 35’) Gakpo, Reijnders, Dumfries (Zirkee 93’) Schouten, Malen (Weghorst 46’) Subs not used: Geertruida, De Ligt, Wijnaldum, Frimpong, Bijlow, Van de Ven, Blind, Bergwijn, Flekken, Gravenberch

Referee: Felix Zwayer

Assistants: Stefan Lupp and Marco Achmuller

Fourth Official: Daniel Siebert

VAR: Bastian Dankert

Assistant VAR 1: Christian Dingert

Assistant VAR 2: Marco Fritz