Last-minute winner sends England into final again

England's players celebrate after winning the UEFA Euro 2024 semi-final football match between the Netherlands and England at the BVB Stadion in Dortmund on 10 July, 2024AFP

Substitute Ollie Watkins scored a stoppage-time winner to send England deservedly through to their second successive European Championship final on Wednesday as they finally turned on the style to beat Netherlands 2-1 on a memorable night in Dortmund.

With the match looking set for extra time, Watkins received a pass from fellow sub Cole Palmer and fired a sweet strike into the far corner.

Xavi Simons had brilliantly put the Dutch ahead after seven minutes, with England equalising 11 minutes later with a Harry Kane penalty.

Chances came and went in an all action first half, but things settled in the second before the late drama that sends England through to play 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."

It was a goal to savour for Watkins, who has played only 30 minutes in two appearances in Germany.

"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."

After England's pedestrian path to the last four, they looked a different team on Wednesday, despite going behind to Simons' screamer into the top corner.

They levelled when Kane was caught by the studs of Denzel Dumfries as he shot, earning a VAR-reviewed penalty that the captain drilled into the bottom corner.

They were desperately close to a second when Phil Foden brilliantly skipped through a series of tackles only for his shot to be cleared off the line by Dumfries.

The Dutch centre back then thumped a header against the bar, only for a livewire Foden to respond again with a lovely, curling shot that hit the post.

England’s fans, who had been bored into silence in their previous three games, were shocked by what they were seeing and responded to win the singing war despite being massively outnumbered by the massed ranks of orange shirts.

Foden, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka were playing with the swagger that they showed all season for their clubs while the incredible 19-year-old Kobbie Mainoo was running midfield like a veteran.

England's forward #19 Ollie Watkins (R) reacts as he scores his team's second goal past Netherlands' goalkeeper #01 Bart Verbruggen (L) during the UEFA Euro 2024 semi-final football match between the Netherlands and England at the BVB Stadion in Dortmund on 10 July, 2024

It was a scarcely believable transformation as the team who barely mustered a shot against Slovenia, Slovakia and Switzerland sent in crosses high and low, attempted probing through balls and even a couple of backheels in the box while forcing Bart Verbruggen into three sprawling saves.

The Dutch threw on striker Wout Weghorst for the second half while England brought on Luke Shaw but England seemed to lose their energy, playing deeper and more cautiously.

For fans who saw the same pattern in the 2018 World Cup semi-final against Croatia and Euro 2020 final against Italy, it was a worry, but this time coach Gareth Southgate took dramatic action by removing Foden and Kane, bringing on Watkins and Palmer after 80 minutes.

"We wanted to take that gamble in normal time rather than extra time," said Southgate, who had been criticised in earlier games for his reluctance to make changes.

Palmer, who has looked dangerous every time he has come on in the tournament, duly threaded a trademark pass into the path of Watkins to cue bedlam as England came from behind to win for the third successive 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 and were hoping to make the final despite finishing third in their group.

"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 their 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."