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Dominant Performance Against the Netherlands

Yesterday’s display was unexpected for a team that looked underwhelming leading up to the quarterfinals. Despite conceding within the first ten minutes, Southgate’s tactical adjustments were a refreshing change for the Three Lions.

After facing heavy criticism, it’s time to praise this England team for not just reaching the final, but for their unexpected and impressive reaction. For the first time, England performed up to the high expectations set for them.

A Marked Improvement: England’s Calm and Composed Response

It all seemed problematic when Xavi Simons scored in the seventh minute, capitalizing on a pressing contribution that led to a dispossession. Declan Rice arrived too late to stop the Dutchman, and the goal was there.

The fear was palpable among England’s ranks: they were behind in the scoreline again, and their reaction would determine their fate. Unlike previous matches, The Three Lions remained calm and focused, intent on settling the game their way.

When England had long felt like a collection of individuals rather than a cohesive team (similar to France), they were now united. The team was more press-resistant than it had previously been, addressing one of their key shortcomings.

Considering that Pickford tends to boot it long, England rarely builds up from the back. This changed yesterday, as Kobbie Mainoo continued to progress calmly through the pitch, allowing fans to see a more composed version of England. 

A dubious penalty call in the 18th minute allowed Gareth Southgate’s team to equalize, bringing Koeman’s team back to reality. England grew in confidence, and whether this was led by the players or by the coach didn’t matter. 

Harry Kane, who previously exuded insecurity in a rigid role, roamed freer than ever, something England benefitted from. In many ways, it felt as if The Three Lions were freeing themselves from their cage. 

Additionally, Phil Foden experienced a similar phenomenon, as he too started roaming around in zones more conducive to his style, unlike his usual position at Manchester City. Throughout the campaign, he had been uncomfortable on the left wing, but his creativity finally shone in yesterday’s game.

Dutch Resurgence: Netherlands Fight Back to Challenge England

While England seemed to be close to finding the winner, especially with Buyako Saka and Kyle Walker creating threats down the wing, their shots were repeatedly denied. 

Soon enough, it was time for Denzel Dumfries to take center stage. The full-back not only blocked Saka’s shots multiple times but also contributed offensively, pushing England back.

Koeman readjusted his team, leading to an increasingly dominant display from the Netherlands. He subbed on Joey Veerman instead of Memphis Depay, who once again had shown little throughout the game. This allowed Oranje to attack more coherently, and press England higher. Donyell Malen was also taken off, with Wout Weghorst joining the attacking ranks.

In the tournament, Wout Weghort coming on is probably the most used substitution. It’s a straightforward plan: cross and score. 

If it has worked until now, why change it? Everything hinted at Koeman taking off creative outlets and building a block, suggesting that he intended to exploit England’s weaknesses throughout the tournament.

England’s Battle Against Dutch Tactics

It all made sense as England’s four-man midfield made it difficult for the Netherlands to build up; after the substitutions, the Dutch matched England’s numbers in the midfield, and England was once again stuck playing against a mirror. 

There were justified doubts about whether Gareth Southgate could react to Koeman’s pragmatic approach, given that it’s against such blocks that England lacked responses throughout its EURO 2024 run. This seemed to shift the momentum in favour of the Netherlands, despite Trippier being replaced by Luke Shaw, a player whose functions could have helped England earlier in the tournament.

While many welcomed the substitution as golden, it was not particularly brilliant. England, which usually played down the flank through Saka, suddenly abandoned this approach for reasons that remain a mystery.

Belief Restored: England’s Path to the EURO 2024 Final

One thing nobody can criticize England for is their sense of unity. Even if they did not always play cohesively throughout the tournament, there were no visible clashes within the team despite the abundance of talent.

Gareth Southgate made a bold move by substituting Harry Kane, who seemed exhausted by the 80th minute. In came Aston Villa forward Ollie Watkins, who had barely played during the tournament. This fresh injection of energy combined with Cole Palmer’s creativity. 

Who could have predicted that England would find the winner through Ollie Watkins, securing the last ticket to the EURO 2024 final? Football is often a mysterious world, and sometimes the answers are elusive.

Nonetheless, England will not be the favourite in the final. They are set to face Spain, a team that has looked dominant throughout the tournament, especially in their tie against France. 

The game against the Netherlands was the first match in which they displayed genuine confidence, whereas Spain has exuded confidence since day one.

It is easy to think that La Roja will be favoured, but that doesn’t diminish England’s resilience. Germany proved to be a challenging test for Spain, with only a last-minute header in extra time from Mikel Merino, allowing Spain to avoid the dreaded penalties.

England’s resilience, showcased in the clash against the Netherlands, gives the Three Lions every reason to believe that football could be coming home. 

However, the road ahead will be difficult, especially given that Simons’ early goal highlighted England’s struggle against high-pressing teams. Spain has excelled at pressing throughout the tournament, presenting a formidable challenge for England in the final.

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