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regular-article-logo Thursday, 18 July 2024

European Championship: Netherlands trial awaits 'streetwise' England boys for a spot in final

For the second time in five years these two meet in a semi-final, with the Netherlands having triumphed 3-1 after extra time in a Nations League clash in 2019

AP/PTI, Reuters Published 10.07.24, 10:09 AM
Cody Gakpo (third from right) celebrates with teammates after the Netherlands’ second goal against Turkey in Berlin

Cody Gakpo (third from right) celebrates with teammates after the Netherlands’ second goal against Turkey in Berlin Reuters

The Netherlands and England, the two Europ­ean heavyweights, will try to rise above the mostly average football they have played so far as they meet on Wednesday for a place in the Euro 2024 final.

For the second time in five years these two meet in a semi-final, with the Netherlands having triumphed 3-1 after extra time in a Nations League clash in 2019.

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It would come as no surprise to anybody if this highly-anticipated encounter went the distance once more. Five of the last eight games between these teams have finished level after 90 minutes. The Dutch have been patchy this time and England have flattered to deceive with a strong team. The prospect of shootouts looks very much a possibility.

England, of course, can reach back-to-back European Championship finals if they come out triumphant from Wednesday’s battle. The Netherlands haven’t reached a European Championship final since they won the tournament in 1988 and were last semi-finalists in 2004.

On paper and as per recent form, the two appear to be evenly matched. Both the teams conceded the opening goal in their quarter-finals before coming back to win, with England beating Switzerland in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw and the Netherlands winning 2-1 against Turkey.

Gareth Southgate, however, has defended his often-cautious tactics as the kind of “streetwise” style successful teams use. The backlash from England fans, including some who threw plastic cups at him after a group-stage game, is “quite difficult” to deal with, he added.

England have relied on the right-footed Kieran Trippier at left wing-back, but his tendency to cut inside has meant England have made little use of the left-wing all tournament. Left-footed Luke Shaw came off the bench against Switzerland for his first minutes since February after injury and is available for Wednesday.

Southgate has to choose whether to stick with Ezri Konsa in the centre of defence after he replaced the then-suspended Marc Guehi against Switzerland. Guehi is eligible against the Dutch.

There’s scrutiny of Harry Kane’s fitness after the England captain went off witha cramp in extra time against Switzerland. With just two goals to show, Kane has not been at his best in this tournament.

Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman could keep his line-up unchanged for the third game in a row, with Memphis Depay starting alongside Cody Gakpo up front. Gakpo is the top-scoring player left at Euro 2024 with three goals.

Wednesday’s clash has also thrown up a weird subplot with the designated referee, Felix Zwayer, once having ties to a match-fixing scandal in Germany. England midfielder Jude Bellingham was fined 40,000 euros ($43,400) while pl­aying for Borussia Dortmund in 2021 for criticising the appointment of Zwayer.

Rice relaxed

One is not sure about the overall mood in the England camp, but Declan Rice is taking the semi-final game in his stride and believes they have the momentum to beat the Dutch and win their first-ever European Championship.

The Arsenal midfielder, the bedrock for England during what has been a lacklustre run to the last four, said he was in a relaxed mood even while expecting a tough game.

“It’s business as usual... I don’t put too much pressure on myself, I don’t think about it too much,” Rice told England’s Lions’ Den programme.

“It’s another game of football, it’s a semi-final and that’s the only way I think about it.” “We’re here for a reason,Holland are here for a reason and may the best team win. We feel like we’ve got a really good bit of momentum on our side,” he added.

The statistics underline Rice’s contribution for England, covering more distance in the tournament than any other player at 63.9km (39.7 miles) over five matches, with the fourth most tackles and balls recovered.

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