KEIR RADNEDGE in DUSSELDORF —- England, almost despite themselves, are into the semi-finals of UEFA Euro 2024. The manner of their progress, almost comical if it were not so painful for their fans, has now embraced a penalty shootout to follow the group stage stumbles and the Round of 16 defeat, in extremis, of Slovakia.

Their latest travails, against Switzerland, saw England fall behind in the 75th minute, level through Bukayo Saka to earn extra time, then win a faultless penalty shootout 5-3. The Three Lions will play Netherlands in Wednesday’s Dortmund semi-final in further pursuit of a first major final – and trophy – on foreign soil.

Shootout heroes were Jordan Pickford for saving the first Swiss kick by Manuel Akani, Saka for courageously banishing the spectre of his Euro 2020 agony with England’s third and then substitute Trent Alexander-Arnold for making it five out of five with the decisive last shot.

England . . . ready for action in Dusseldorf

Manager Gareth Southgate said: “These young players are showing unbelievable qualities of character and resilience, dealing with everything around us, twice coming behind and then winning a shootout where their composure was impeccable. I was proud of them.”

History always spoke for England. They had lost only three times in 31 duels with the Swiss and the last defeat, by 2-1, had been back in the World Cup qualifiers in 1981. This time, however, Switzerland started narrow favourites as the form team.

Media reports had suggested that Southgate, chastened by England’s failure to live up to their pre-Euro status as favourites, would switch to a three-man defence. Not entirely true. England set up much as before at the back while adjusting the roles of Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Saka in particular in support of captain Harry Kane.

Initially they moved the ball with more intent than before, albeit without intimidating the Swiss who were quick to nibble at any possible opening in the England defence.

England forced the first corner after 20 minutes and a second after half an hour and made a mess of taking it short which summed up 45 minutes without a shot in anger from either side, let alone a goal.

Finally, after 50 minutes, the first attempt at a goal was delivered by Breel Embolo on the turn, bringing a low save from Pickford. The goalkeeper was then relieved to pick up a loose ball which ricocheted off the heads of Ezri Konsa and Embolo after a left-wing cross.

Switzerland were now picking up the pace and a measure of England’s increasing frustration as the match tide ran against them was the sight of Kane being booked for a foul on Akanji.

This was a prelude to the Swiss taking the lead in the 75th minute. John Stones jabbed at a right-wing cross and Embolo, behind him, stabbed the deflected ball into the net.

Desperate situations demand desperate measures. Southgate sent on Eberechi Eze, Cole Palmer and barely-fit Luke Shaw and was rewarded with a superb equaliser from Saka, cutting inside and beating Yann Sommer with an angled cross-shot.

So to extra time. Sommer dived left to save acrobatically from Declan Rice but it was Switzerland who went closest when a right-wing corner from substitute Xherdan Shaqiri struck the England crossbar. Pickford was then required to deliver a stand-up save from Amdouni Zeki before the inevitable denouement to Southgate’s 100th match in charge.

Penalties (England first): Palmer 1-0, Akanji saved 1-0; Bellingham 2-0, Schar 2-1; Saka 3-1, Shaqiri 3-2; Eze 4-2, Amdouni 4-3; Alexander-Arnold 5-3.

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