Super-sub Watkins sends England past Netherlands and into Euro 2024 final

11th July 2024

England are hoping to win a first major trophy since 1966.

England head coach Gareth Southgate. PHOTO| AFP
England head coach Gareth Southgate. PHOTO| AFP
  • England are through to their second consecutive European Championship final  after heartbreak against Italy in 2020.
  • The Three Lions can now dream of finally winning a first major trophy since 1966.
  • They will face Spain in the final on Sunday.

Ollie Watkins struck a stunning injury-time winner as England beat the Netherlands 2-1 on Wednesday to set up a Euro 2024 final showdown with Spain in Berlin.

It was an incredible finish to an evening that began badly for England, as Xavi Simons gave the Netherlands an early lead in the semi-final in Dortmund.

However, England were soon level through a Harry Kane penalty following a contentious VAR call by German referee Felix Zwayer, and the match looked set to drift towards extra time until Watkins struck.

On for Kane, Watkins received a pass from fellow substitute Cole Palmer with his back to goal in the first minute of stoppage time, turned and fired low into the far corner to leave the Netherlands bewildered.

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"I'm lost for words really," said Watkins, the Aston Villa striker. "I don't think I've hit a ball that sweet before, and obviously in such a special moment."

It has rarely been a convincing campaign from Gareth Southgate's England side, but they are through to their second consecutive European Championship final as they dream of finally winning a first major trophy since 1966.

To do that they will surely have to perform better than at any point so far in Germany as they face an outstanding Spain team.

Spain will also have had an extra 24 hours to prepare for the final, having defeated France 2-1 on Tuesday.

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The Netherlands had been hoping to repeat their triumph at the last Euros held in Germany, in 1988, but their current side lacks anyone with the star quality of Marco van Basten or Ruud Gullit.

A victory for them would have seen this Euros conclude with the same final as the 2010 World Cup. Instead they now go home.

England had got to this stage despite not winning any of their last four matches in 90 minutes, and having been taken to extra time by Slovakia and Switzerland.

That might have given the Dutch an edge physically, after the Oranje shrugged off finishing third in their group to brush aside Romania and see off Turkey.

England welcomed back Marc Guehi in defence after suspension, while Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman opted to start Donyell Malen in attack on the ground where he plays club football for Borussia Dortmund.

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The Westfalenstadion is a special place for the Dutch, as the scene of their 2-0 win over Brazil, with goals by Johan Neeskens and Johan Cruyff, that took them through to the 1974 World Cup final.

They went ahead here after just seven minutes thanks to a brilliant effort by Simons, who robbed Declan Rice 35 metres from goal and advanced before sending a rasping drive beyond Jordan Pickford.

The Dutch players ran off to celebrate with their fans behind that goal, as England found themselves trailing for the third game running.

Just like against the Swiss in the quarter-finals, however, they reacted swiftly.

Kane forced a save from Bart Verbruggen and moments later sent a volley over the bar, and was caught by Denzel Dumfries on the follow-through.

It seemed totally innocuous but Zwayer was summoned across to review the images and gave a penalty.

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Kane, whose missed spot-kick against France cost England dear in the 2022 World Cup, made no mistake, slotting low into the bottom-left corner.

It settled into an open and entertaining game, with Dumfries redeeming himself by clearing off the line from Phil Foden.

Dumfries crashed a header off the bar from a Simons corner, but Foden responded by curling a superb shot from range off the post.

England's midfielders were being given too much time on the ball, and Koeman used an injury to Memphis Depay to reinforce the centre, replacing the forward with Joey Veerman.

Another change followed at the interval, with Wout Weghorst –- super-sub in previous rounds –- replacing Malen.

Yet the game became more cagey as the minutes went on and the fear of making a mistake grew.

Pickford denied Virgil van Dijk on 65 minutes and the Netherlands began to take control as England's leading players started to tire.

England did have the ball in the net on 79 minutes when Bukayo Saka turned in a Kyle Walker cutback, but the latter was just offside and the flag cut short the celebrations.

Southgate then decided to remove Kane and Foden, with Watkins and Palmer entering the fray to devastating effect.

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