Watkins’ Late Strike Propels England into the Final

Watkins’ Late Strike Propels England into the Final

by Reuters News Service
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Substitute Ollie Watkins scored a stoppage-time winner to propel England into their second consecutive European Championship final on Wednesday, as they delivered a stunning 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in Dortmund.

The match seemed destined for extra time when Watkins, after receiving a pass from fellow substitute Cole Palmer, struck a perfect shot into the far corner of the net.

Earlier, Xavi Simons had given the Dutch an early lead with a brilliant goal in the seventh minute. England equalized 11 minutes later through a Harry Kane penalty.

The first half was packed with action and chances, but the second half saw a more settled game until the dramatic late goal that secured England’s place in the final against Spain in Berlin on Sunday.

“History made – amazing achievement,” said Kane, as England reached their first major final on foreign soil. “We talk about being ready – you might get five minutes, one minute, but you can make a difference, you can win a tournament, and Ollie’s been patient, and what he did out there was outstanding.”

For Watkins, who had only played 30 minutes in two appearances during the tournament, it was a moment to cherish. “I’ve been waiting for that moment for weeks, I’m delighted,” he said. “I swear on my life that I said to Cole Palmer that he’s going to set me up today and I’m going to score. It’s the best feeling ever.”

Despite a slow start in the tournament, England looked transformed on Wednesday, even after falling behind to Simons’ stunning strike. They leveled the score when Kane was fouled by Denzel Dumfries, earning a VAR-reviewed penalty that Kane converted with precision.

Phil Foden came close to giving England the lead, weaving through several tackles only to see his shot cleared off the line by Dumfries. The Dutch defender then hit the bar with a header, but Foden responded with a curling shot that struck the post.

England’s previously subdued fans were invigorated by the team’s dynamic performance, winning the singing war despite being outnumbered by Dutch supporters. Foden, Jude Bellingham, and Bukayo Saka showcased the flair they exhibited all season for their clubs, while the 19-year-old Kobbie Mainoo controlled the midfield like a seasoned pro.

It was a remarkable transformation from a team that had struggled to create chances against Slovenia, Slovakia, and Switzerland. England pressed forward with a variety of attacks, forcing Dutch goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen into several sprawling saves.

In the second half, the Dutch introduced striker Wout Weghorst, while England brought on Luke Shaw. England’s energy waned, and they played more cautiously, reminiscent of their previous exits in the 2018 World Cup semi-final against Croatia and Euro 2020 final against Italy. However, this time, coach Gareth Southgate made bold changes, substituting Foden and Kane for Watkins and Palmer with ten minutes remaining.

“We wanted to take that gamble in normal time rather than extra time,” said Southgate, who had faced criticism for his earlier reluctance to make substitutions. Palmer, consistently dangerous throughout the tournament, delivered a perfect pass to Watkins, leading to jubilant celebrations as England came from behind to win their third consecutive match.

“It’s another landmark for the way that we played throughout the game,” said Southgate. “The opponent gave us a little bit more space – in the early games, we didn’t have any space to play. Tonight we didn’t deserve to be behind. I thought our performance with the ball was exceptional. We caused a lot of problems. We have given people some amazing nights, but we are not finished.”

It was heartbreak for the Dutch, who have now lost four semi-finals since winning the title in 1988. Despite finishing third in their group, they hoped to reach the final. “My feeling was the last 20-25 minutes our team was a little more fresh than England but they scored a great goal and that’s football sometimes,” said Dutch coach Ronald Koeman. “I won’t say it was unlucky because it was a great goal and we can be really proud of our national team. We had a great tournament.”

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