Stop Ridiculing Gareth Southgate: A Coaching Masterclass

Stop Ridiculing Gareth Southgate: A Coaching Masterclass

So maybe now you’re going to believe in him.

Maybe now, before it is too late, you are going to say that maybe you got it wrong with Gareth Southgate.

Maybe now that he has lead England to back-to-back European Championship finals, you are going to admit what he has done for football in this country.

Maybe now, it is time to stop throwing beer cups at him and ridiculing him and making him a stranger in his own land.

Because at this football cathedral in the heartlands of the German game, Southgate provided a coaching masterclass on one of the biggest nights of his career.

Ollie Watkins netted a 90th-minute winner to send England through to the Euro 2024 final

England's substitutes ran onto the pitch to celebrate with the goalscoring hero

England’s substitutes ran onto the pitch to celebrate with the goalscoring hero

And at the end of it, an England manager and an England team that have refused to conform to the beloved national model of heroic failure, swept past The Netherlands into the European Championship final against Spain in Berlin on Sunday.

England left it late yet again, drawing on the resilience that Southgate has bred into them to score a brilliant last-minute winner through Ollie Watkins that gave England a 2-1 win and broke Dutch hearts.

Southgate had started with his captain and talisman Harry Kane, when many had said he should be dropped, and Kane rewarded him by winning a first half penalty and scoring it after the Dutch had taken an early lead through Xavi Simons.

The Dutch and their coach Ronald Koeman were out-thought by Southgate here and spent much of the match reacting to his changes.

And when Kane grew weary late in the game, Southgate turned to Watkins and removed the skipper. And Watkins repaid him a million times over.

So England are on the road to Berlin against a Spain team of all the talents, prominent amongst which is the 16-year-old Lamine Yamal. Spain will be favourites. England will not worry about this. Not this England. Not Dear England.

This victory means England will contest their first ever major tournament final on foreign soil. Maybe now, at last, we can cease all this garbage about England winning despite Southgate, not because of him. This was his win. This was his win all night long.

Southgate had made only one change to the team that had edged past Switzerland in the quarter-finals, bringing back Marc Guehi after suspension to replace Ezri Konsa. Uefa stuck to their selection, too.

European football’s governing body refused to heed calls to replace German referee Felix Zwayer because he had long ago been involved in a match-fixing scandal and, more recently, had been criticised by Jude Bellingham when Bellingham was playing for Borussia Dortmund against Bayern Munich.

Harry Kane fired England level from the spot after being fouled in the penalty area

Harry Kane fired England level from the spot after being fouled in the penalty area

The England captain made Euros history as he has now scored more knockout goals than any other player in the competition

The England captain made Euros history as he has now scored more knockout goals than any other player in the competition

England opened brightly and with energy. Which is not something that has been written too often in this tournament. The Netherlands matched them and within seven minutes, they had taken the lead.

Xavi Simons stole the ball from Declan Rice deep in the England half, advanced a couple of steps and then hit a stunning right foot drive from 25 yards that beat Jordan Pickford for sheer pace and venom. It was still rising when it bulged the back of the net.

England hurried into the search for an equaliser. Jude Bellingham’s private game of head tennis was rudely interrupted by an inadvertent head-butt from Jerdy Schouten, Kane forced a sharp save out of Bart Verbruggen with a low shot and Kane whistled a shot over the bar.

As he took that shot, Kane was flattened by a high challenge from Denzel Dumfries that was judged ‘reckless’ by VAR and Mr Zwayer awarded a penalty. England has a wealth of nerveless penalty-takers these days but Kane is still the daddy of them all. He took it and dispatched it low into the corner.

England thought they had taken the lead midway through the half when Foden wriggled brilliantly through the massed ranks of Dutch defenders and into the six-yard box. It is almost the first time in the tournament we have seen his quick feet dance and he squeezed the ball through the legs of Verbruggen. The England fans behind the goal thought it was in but it was hacked off the line by Dumfries.

Xavi Simons had put the Netherlands in front inside seven minutes with a fine strike from range

Xavi Simons had put the Netherlands in front inside seven minutes with a fine strike from range

Simons celebrated his first goal of the tournament in front of the 'Orange Wall'

Simons celebrated his first goal of the tournament in front of the ‘Orange Wall’

If England’s previous games have been large parts dull, this was dynamite. Dumfries thundered a header off the England bar from a corner, Foden curled a left-beauty past Verbruggen but watched in despair as it cannoned off the outside of the post.

England were playing beautifully, Kobbie Mainoo was the best player on the pitch, breaking up any sign of Dutch momentum, moving the ball fast and accurately and generally dominating midfield. Foden stepped up another gear. Kane looked like a totally different player. Saka played just about as well as he had done against the Swiss, which was a high bar.

Both managers made changes at half-time. Southgate switched things up, introducing Luke Shaw for the redoubtable Kieran Trippier, Koeman turned to Wout Weghorst, a decent centre forward and an even better agent provocateur.

The Netherlands had been outplayed in the first half and they knew it. They turned the second half into more of a war of attrition, keeping England at bay, clawing their way back into the game, making England wish they had scored again when they had the upper hand.

The Dutch gave England a scare midway through the half when Virgil van Dijk forced his way on to the end of a free kick that dropped awkwardly on the edge of the six yard box. Van Dijk could not get any power in his shot but Pickford had to dive smartly to his left to parry it away.

Bellingham was booked for a foul on Stefan de Vrij that was less of a foul than an old-fashioned 50-50. Both men slid in, neither backed out, both could have been hurt but neither were. Bellingham gave his old friend in black a withering look.

Phil Foden came very close to giving England the lead when the score was 1-1 but his shot was cleared off the line

Phil Foden came very close to giving England the lead when the score was 1-1 but his shot was cleared off the line

Foden also had an effort clip the outside of the post in the first half as England pushed for a goal

Foden also had an effort clip the outside of the post in the first half as England pushed for a goal

But Watkins came up trumps in the end, and England now have the final to look forward to against Spain on Sunday

But Watkins came up trumps in the end, and England now have the final to look forward to against Spain on Sunday

It felt as if the momentum in the game was switching towards the Dutch. They had regained their composure and their confidence and England were sinking into one of their worst habits: playing on the back foot.

The game was crying out for Southgate to make a change. England rode their luck 15 minutes from time when the ball dropped invitingly to Simons 12 yards out. If Simons had hit it as sweetly as his goal, the Dutch would have been ahead but he miscued his volley.

England thought they had taken the lead when Saka swept home a cross from Walker but Walker had strayed offside. Then Southgate made the changes. Kane, who had tired, was substituted for Ollie Watkins. Cole Palmer replaced Foden.

Palmer blazed a shot high and wide and then, just as the clock ticked over on to 90 minutes, Watkins took the pass from Palmer with his back to goal, turned his man sweetly and rifled that brilliant low shot across the despairing dive of Verbruggen and inside the far post.

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