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‘Grinding’ England hopes for spark against Netherlands in Euros semi

Jul 10,2024 - Last updated at Jul 11,2024

England’s forward #09 Harry Kane (right) is checked on by England’s head coach Gareth Southgate after falling on the side of the pitch during the UEFA Euro 2024 quarter-final football match between England and Switzerland at the Duesseldorf Arena in Duesseldorf on Saturday (AFP photo)

DORTMUND, Germany — England manager Gareth Southgate has led his country to a third semifinal in four major tournaments but ahead of Wednesday’s last-four showdown against The Netherlands at Euro 2024, critics of the Three Lions’ boring football are mounting.

Should England end a 58-year wait to win a major trophy in Berlin on Sunday, supporters would not take umbrage with the team’s style, or lack thereof, but the inability of such an array of attacking stars to excite has stunned viewers across the continent.

Southgate’s team produced just five shots on target in 240 minutes of action against Switzerland and Slovakia in the prior two rounds, needing penalties and extra-time respectively to progress.

Former England striker Alan Shearer called the team “rotten” after staggering past Slovakia, while French Euro 2000 winner Emmanuel Petit echoed many fans and national media by labelling England “boring”.

Told his team was “not easy on the eye” by a German reporter, Southgate produced an assortment of reasons.

“I’m sorry for that, but our intention is always to play well with the ball — in football you have an opponent that’s trying to stop you,” he said after the win over Switzerland.

“These are not normal football matches, these are national events with huge pressure, with really young men in the middle of it.

“Our team has been under enormous pressure from the start. They are doing so well.”

Southgate pointed to England’s opponents using defensive formations and also blamed the grass in Germany for hampering his players.

“We’re not able to score a load of goals at the moment, but we’ve played three teams that play a back five, well-organised defences,” he continued.

“Pitches are a little bit bobbly so sometimes you need the extra touch and then the space is gone. None of this is easy, but we’re in a third semifinal in four tournaments.”

After reaching the 2018 World Cup semifinals and being beaten in the Euro 2020 final on penalties by Italy, England began this tournament as one of the two favourites along with France.

Les Bleus have also played in a rather tedious, yet adequate, fashion to reach the other semifinal, facing Spain.

Southgate noted even La Roja, who by contrast have dazzled this summer in Germany, modified their style to be more direct as they beat the hosts in the quarter-finals.

“It’s not just about playing well — Spain mixed their game up, they took seven yellow cards, they found ways to win,” said the coach.

They now face a Dutch team whose five games have produced nearly double the number of goals as in England’s, despite playing 60 minutes less.

In Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo and Burnley target man Wout Weghorst, Ronald Koeman’s side have a variety of different tools to create havoc at the other end, leading to hope of a more entertaining, higher-calibre clash.

One bone of contention England fans have had with Southgate is his reluctance to make changes.

Cole Palmer, arguably the player of the season in England, has not started a game in Germany, while Ollie Watkins would offer the ability to run in behind that Kane can no longer muster. Anthony Gordon, who would add dynamism on the left, has gone virtually ignored.

Despite some decisive moments Jude Bellingham has looked jaded after his exploits with Real Madrid and Phil Foden is operating at a far lower level than with Manchester City.

Southgate only rang the changes against Switzerland after falling behind, before Bukayo Saka’s fine strike from distance pulled England level.

There are concerns that like in the World Cup 2018 semi-final against Croatia, if Southgate is too reactive rather than proactive, England could lose control of the game against better opposition.

If they can defeat The Netherlands with a convincing display instead of another isolated moment of brilliance, it will give the team hope ahead of a potential final.

Fans tossed beer cups at Southgate during a dull goalless draw with Slovenia but all will be forgiven if England triumph in Berlin on July 14.

“I don’t think it is normal to have beer thrown at you,” said Southgate.

“But we will keep grinding, keep fighting and keep enjoying this journey.”

Even if, for now, not many others have.

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