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Euro 2024: England edge out Netherlands to reach final

July 11, 2024

England come from behind to defeat the Netherlands 2-1 in their Euro 2024 semifinal in Dortmund. Gareth Southgate's side will meet favorites Spain in the final on Sunday in Berlin.

Ollie Watkins with his hands outstretched
Ollie Watkins scored his first goal for England at a major tournamentImage: Andreea Alexandru/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Ollie Watkins scored a last-minute winner as England secured a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands to lead his side to the Euro 2024 final against Spain on Sunday at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin.

The substitute struck his first goal in a major tournament for England as he turned Dutch defender Stefan de Vrij in the box before hammering the ball into the far bottom corner.

It is a second consecutive European Championship final for Gareth Southgate's side, who came up short against Italy on penalties at Wembley in 2021.

Winning goalscorer Watkins was in disbelief at the end of the match, saying: "It's unbelievable. I've been waiting for that moment for weeks."

But, Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk cut a forlorn figure, adding: "I have no words for this. When you concede so late, it's terrible. This hurts a lot. You give it your all and if it still turns out like that, it sucks.

Shocked into action

Having produced a series of uninspired performances to reach the semifinal in Dortmund, expectations were not particularly high for England against a livewire Dutch side. 

Dortmund's famous "Yellow Wall" was turned orange by the bouncing Netherlands fans, and they were soon sent into delirium as the Dutch took the lead within three minutes when Xavi Simmons blasted the ball past Jordan Pickford from 25 yards out.

Despite the shock of falling behind so early, England recovered immediately, pressing high and Bakayo Saka and Phil Foden linking well, with the latter testing goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen.

It was a stroke of luck that brought England back on level terms as the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) adjudged Denzel Dumfries' stud to have clipped Harry Kane's toe inside the box, earning England a penalty that was dispatched with ease by their fouled captain.

With England firmly on the front foot, Foden struck the post before dancing into the box and seeing his shot cleared off the line by mere millimeters as the match went into halftime level.

Substitutes lead England to first final on foreign soil

A tactical change in midfield by Dutch head coach Ronald Koeman at halftime subdued England's attacking intent in the second 45, and the match looked to be drifting towards extra time.

Southgate, criticized throughout the tournament for waiting until late on in games to make substitutes, brought on Watkins and Cole Palmer for skipper Kane and arguably England's best player of the night Foden with 10 minutes of the match remaining. 

Netherlands defender Denzel Dumfries clears the ball off the line
Phil Foden believed he had given England the lead but the ball did not fully cross the lineImage: Adam Davy/empics/picture alliance

And, it was Palmer and Watkins who combined, as the former's sublime pass from the right was collected by the latter — who snatched the late winner as he sent the ball through the legs of Verbruggen with one second of regular time remaining.

A delighted Watkins explained he had predicted the goal, saying: "I swear on my life ... I said to Cole Palmer, we're coming on today and you're going to set me up."

"I knew as soon as he got the ball he was going to play me and you've got to be greedy, touch and finish and when I've seen it go in the bottom corner, it's the best feeling ever."

Acknowledging that Watkins has had to wait for his opportunity to make his mark at the Euros, captain Kane praised the Aston Villa striker's impact, adding: "Ollie's been waiting and he's been patient and what he's done out there is outstanding. What a finish! I'm so happy for him."

The victory saw England's men's team reach their first-ever final on foreign soil, following in the footsteps of the women's side, which also faced Spain in the 2023 World Cup final in Sydney.

Royalty toasts England with Prime Minister set to attend final

The congratulatory messages from as high up as the English royal family were quick to follow the team's last-gasp victory. 

William, the prince of Wales, who is the president of the Football Association and an Aston Villa fan, added his own congratulations.

"What a beauty, Ollie! Congratulations England! Euro 2024 finalists," he tweeted.

King Charles praised the team but asked for a less nerve-wracking final performance for the health of the nation.

"My wife and I join all our family in wishing you the warmest congratulations on reaching the final of the UEFA European Championship and in sending our very best wishes for Sunday's match," he said.

"If I may encourage you to secure victory before the need for any last minute wonder-goals or another penalties drama, I am sure the stresses on the nation's collective heart rate and blood pressure would be greatly alleviated!  Good luck, England!"

British Prime Minister  Keir Starmer, who had requested his aides update him regularly on the match while he was attending a NATO summit in Washington DC, confirmed he would be attending the final in Berlin on Sunday. 

Edited by: Wesley Dockery