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It wasn’t pretty but England have made another major final… Gareth Southgate has perfect chance to answer his critics

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AFTER what has been a tough tournament of times, what an opportunity Gareth Southgate and his team will have to end in the best possible way.

We might like a team that played better football. But it’s a results business.

England booked a spot in the Euro 2024 final thanks to a late goal from Ollie Watkins

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England booked a spot in the Euro 2024 final thanks to a late goal from Ollie WatkinsCredit: Getty
It is England's second successive European Championship final

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It is England’s second successive European Championship finalCredit: Getty
England will face Spain on Sunday

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England will face Spain on SundayCredit: Getty

Germany, Italy, France, Portugal and of course Holland would love to be where we are.

People will say we’re lucky because we’re on this side of the draw.

But we won the group. France didn’t and then ran into Spain.

You can say it wasn’t that pretty, but we’re there.

And if we can reproduce the first-half performance over a whole game, we could even win it.

England showed their usual character by coming back from a goal down for the third game in a row.

But the quality and intent after the shaky start was so much better.

We were on the front foot, playing through the lines, taking risks. We had longer spells than the Dutch.

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We needed to keep up the energy, the pressing and the counter-pressing.

Again, I thought Gareth waited too long to make more changes after bringing on Luke Shaw at half-time. England lost momentum and Holland had their chances.

England vs Netherlands Player Ratings

But it was two subs, Cole Palmer and Ollie Watkins, who combined for the winner, so it worked out brilliantly.

We have relied a lot on big moments from individuals, rather than complete performances, and there was another one. Of course, it will be a disappointment if we don’t go on to win it now.

But whatever happens, Gareth has done a fantastic job.

He’s already the second most successful England manager.

We have had some top coaches, so that is huge credit to him.

His record speaks for itself. We’ve got to two finals, a semi-final and a quarter-final.

We’ve won loads of knockout games, which we struggled to do for a while.

He’s changed the whole way the country looks at penalties.

We used to dread it. Now I look at it before the game and think, ‘If it goes to penalties, we’re going to win’.

It’s not just Gareth, either, it’s the work of lots of coaches and staff, and the FA, who have changed things around.

We’re producing players who can look after the ball now, helped by their club managers.

In the past, there was expectation on an England team but it wasn’t really backed up.

England clinched a 2-1 win

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England clinched a 2-1 win

England ratings vs Holland

ENGLAND stormed into the final against Spain thanks to Ollie Watkins’ last-minute strike in the 2-1 win over Holland.

It was a brilliant team performance, but how did each player rate?

SunSport’s Tom Barclay ran the rule over Southgate’s boys, and here’s how he rated them.

Jordan Pickford: 7

Bigger goalkeepers may have got a stronger hand to Xavi Simons’ early stunner – though that was being hypercritical. Solid stop to deny Virgil van Dijk after the hour.

Kyle Walker: 7

Looked re-energised after some lumbering displays and bombed on at times in the first half, despite his role on the right of a back three. Last-ditch tackle on Cody Gakpo was spot on.

John Stones: 7

Strong in possession. He looks to have benefited from regular game-time after rarely featuring for Manchester City in the last few months.

Marc Guehi: 6

Came back into the side after suspension ruled him out of the Switzerland game. Had an unenviable task of making the big man Wout Weghorst after the break.

Bukayo Saka: 7

Razor-sharp in the first half, winning tackles, making runs and dribbling the ball proficiently. Less of an impact after the break, had a goal ruled out for offside and was booked.

Declan Rice: 6

Lost possession for Simons’ thunderous opener but grew into the game, mopping up where necessary. Poor pass when Kane was open midway through the second half.

Kobbie Mainoo: 8

Was England’s youngest-ever player to play in a major-tournament semi-final, aged 19years 82 days, and had a stormer in the first half. Great bursts forward, vital tackles, and his interplay with Foden was a joy.

Kieran Trippier: 6

We all know by now that he is playing out of position, so again he was limited going forward and reliable defensively. Subbed at half-time for the more natural Shaw.

Phil Foden: 7

The first 45 minutes was by far and away his best half of the tournament. Thought he’d scored when his shot was cleared off the line by Denzel Dumfries, and cracked the post with a cracker. But was then surprisingly subbed.

Jude Bellingham: 5

Back at the ground where he made his name but struggled to make much of an impact on his old stomping ground. Fortunate it was not he that was subbed.

Harry Kane: 6

Won and dispatched the penalty to go joint top-scorer in the tournament with three goals. Had looked more mobile initially but still tired badly after the break and was taken off.

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Luke Shaw (for Kieran Trippier, half-time): 6

Looked assured for a man who has been out for so long.

Ollie Watkins (for Harry Kane, 81): 9 and STAR MAN 

Surprisingly given the nod over Ivan Toney as striker sub as Southgate looked for more pace in behind. Brilliant finish into the corner to win the game – you could not ask more from him.

Cole Palmer (for Phil Foden, 81): 7

Had his big chance in the final minutes but shanked it horribly wide – but then fed Watkins for his wonderful winner.

Gareth Southgate: 8

His switch to a back three against Switzerland helped dig out the win there, and here it had his team finally playing some great football in the first half. The team went into their shells again as the game wore on and you feared the worst – but you have to say his decision to bring on Ollie Watkins was a masterstroke. 

Don’t get me wrong, we had good players and should have done better than we did. But you’re still going to play against top top players.

Now the expectation is based on a track record. Four major tournaments, four times quarter-finals or better.

When I was growing up, I remember thinking: ‘If we get to the semis, it’s OK.’ Then it maybe became ­quarter-finals.

Looking at it from the outside as a fan, you look at it now and think: ‘If we don’t get to the final, is it failure?’

I’m not sure about that, but that is a compliment to Gareth. He’s created the feeling that we have to win something.

From where we were when we lost to Iceland at Euro 2016 to where we are now is an amazing transformation.

2016 felt like the end of an era. The country needed someone like a Gareth Southgate to give young players a chance, to put processes in place, to lead.

Just as importantly, he and his staff have changed the culture around England.

Culture is so important in football, but especially at international level. You don’t get much time together, so when you do, it’s about creating an environment that everyone wants to be in.

In the past there were stories about players not wanting to go, it not being a nice place to be.

Gareth Southgate has been criticised throughout the tournament

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Gareth Southgate has been criticised throughout the tournamentCredit: Getty

It’s not like that now. Young players are brought in and Gareth beds them in, they feel part of it.

There was a disconnect between the players and the fans, and the players and the media.

When England play they represent me, and everyone English. We should be together. Gareth has done such a good job on that, starting at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

There is always going to be expectation and high pressure around the ­national team. But we’ve got a group of players who know how to manage it and a culture that understands it.

Gareth and his coaches won’t have been happy with some of the performances.

But I did like the way Gareth and his team have dealt with it.

There was no panic coming out of the camp.

Everyone gave the same message: ‘We know we can better, but we’re here still.’

And on Sunday they will be in ­Berlin to play Spain.

They will probably have to produce two halves of football as good as the first against Holland to beat them.

We have improved as the tournament has gone on and that is how you win things.

You want to peak in the final.

If Gareth can lead England to that major trophy we’ve all been waiting for, it will be the perfect answer to the critics and a brilliant day for us all.


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It wasn’t pretty but England have made another major final… Gareth Southgate has perfect chance to answer his critics
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