Euro 2024: Watkins channels the vibes and belief to fire England through to another European Championship final – Viral News

England can’t keep getting away with this, surely? Is Gareth Southgate, who has been on fraud watch, a genius? Is Harry Kane finished? Do any of these questions matter?

Yes, they do, but England is in the final of the European Championship for a second successive edition.

For the third knockout game in a row, the latest being the semifinal against the Netherlands, England has pulled a rabbit out of the hat to keep the dream alive. It’s a remarkable achievement done in a near-unremarkable manner. Like that unfunny guy at the party who held his own into the night.

The Three Lions are far from being the best team in this tournament; their football has been attritional, have kept things safe with their passing and have frankly been dire, at times.

But it has had some of the best match-defining moments to carry it into another final. In all three of its knockout matches, England has been a goal down but has somehow found a way. And in tournament football, that might just do the job.

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Jude Bellingham in the 95th minute of the round of 16 to make it 1-1. Substitute Ivan Toney then set up Harry Kane for the match-winner two minutes after Bellingham’s goal. Bukayo Saka in the 80th minute of the quarterfinal to make it 1-1, which was then followed by the penalty shootout win in which Jordan Pickford, Cole Palmer, Ivan Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold all stamped their marks. And last night, it was Ollie Watkins’ turn in the 90th minute of the semifinal to make it 2-1.

The belief and the vibes are running high through this England group. Watkins, who had played a total of 20 minutes until tonight and hadn’t featured in the last three matches, manifested to be England’s next hero.

“I swear on my life, my kid’s life, I said to Cole Palmer: we’re coming on today and you’re going to set me up and I am going to score,” Watkins said after the game. And it panned out just like that.

Watkins came on only with nine minutes left for Kane, who has entered Cristiano Ronaldo territories (the 2021-24 years) in recent times with his inability to lead the line as a no. 9 while hogging a place in the XI. In 80 minutes, Kane had just two touches in the opposition box, which contributed to the contentious penalty for his equaliser in the 18th minute. Just like the penalty in the semifinal against Denmark three years ago, England received another lucky break.

But Watkins needed just one touch in the box, held off his defender, Stefan de Vrij, and unleash a low powerful drive to catch the Dutch goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen off guard. Crucially, it was Watkins’ movement, when he made the run across his defender to get on to Palmer’s through ball, which allowed him to get in that situation in the first place to score the goal.

Watkins’ goal (89:59) was the latest in a semifinal of any European Championship or World Cup. “I never thought I’d be playing in the Euros for England. Obviously, you can dream but I’m a realist,” said Watkins. Back in 2014, when Watkins was playing in the Conference South (sixth level on the English pyramid) for Western-super-Mare on loan from Exeter City, he would have dreamt of this moment, but to have it lived out a decade later is the stuff of dreams.

And just like the saviour acts in the previous games, where Bellingham and Saka’s equaliser was England’s first shot on target of those games, the Watkins goal was England’s only shot on goal in the entire half. It was a half where England pulled the handbrake again after an excellent first-half display.

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Southgate is rightly criticised for his passive in-game management as games meander with no real urgency. But the England manager has stuck by his principle of minimising mistakes – an approach with danger, rather than going scorched earth like Spain or Germany.

England manager Gareth Southgate has come under plenty of criticism throughout the tournament.
| Photo Credit:
GETTY IMAGES

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England manager Gareth Southgate has come under plenty of criticism throughout the tournament.
| Photo Credit:
GETTY IMAGES

In the last three games, Southgate has recognised the best shape to accommodate his best players as a plan looks to be coming together at the right time. The substitution of Kane, a high-profile name and England’s record-scorer, in favour of Toney and Watkins in the last two games and his trust in teenager Kobbie Mainoo in central midfield could mean Southgate is shedding his conservative tag.

If pageantry was a tournament criterion, Southgate’s England will not find many takers. But the best-looking team doesn’t always win tournament football. Greece in 2004 and Portugal in 2016 showed it could be done while the 2004 Portugal and 2016 France, who lit up the summer party, returned empty-handed.

On Sunday, England will once again believe it has the right tools to spoil Spain’s futbol party.

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