KEIR RADNEDGE in DORTMUND: England manager Gareth Southgate has taken all manner of criticism down the years over substitutions but he judged his switches to victorious perfection as England manoeuvred their way into the final of UEFA Euro 2024.

Ten minutes remained when Cole Palmer and Ollie Watkins confronted Netherlands in place of the tiring, fading Phil Foden and Harry Kane. Just ten minutes later Palmer broke free on the right and fed Watkins who turned Stefan de Vrij and delivered the lacerating low drive which shot England to a 2-1 victory.

Entry into a first overseas final had been hard-earned but deserved after England’s most coherent performance of the tournament though they will still be outsiders against superb Spain in Sunday’s final in Berlin’s Olympiastadion.

The Dutch started magnificently and took an early lead through Xavi Simons but were thrown out of their stride when Kane levelled from a contentious penalty. Subsequently they played only in fits and starts. Their only major prize had been the European trophy won here in Germany in 1988 but the coincidence of host nation was no happy omen.

Netherlands and England, old rivals, had hardly lit up UEFA Euro 2024 on the road to Dortmund and Southgate’s team will have their work cut out against a Spanish team who have won all six of their matches and have the advantage of an extra day’s rest in their legs after seeing off France 2-1 on Tuesday.

Dortmund’s “orange wall” for the Euro semi-final

In an odd twist before kickoff the vast presentation flags were unfurled in front of the ‘wrong’ ends, the Dutch triangle being waved in front of the England fans while the the Cross of St George was set up in front of what had become Dortmund’s Orange Wall for the night.

That wall was soon bouncing. Seven minutes had gone when Xavi Simons bundled Declan Rice off the ball, arrowed towards goal and unleashed a devastating drive up past keeper Jordan Pickford’s flailing right hand.

Just 10 more minutes and England were level, courtesy of VAR. Kane, having had a long-range drive punched away by the diving Bart Verbruggen, tried his luck from close range and was kicked on the top of his foot by late-challenging Denzel Dumfries. VAR Bastian Dankert sent German referee Felix Zwayer to the screen, he pointed to the spot and Kane duly delivered.

Lucky 13

Verbruggen dived the right way but not far enough to reach what was England’s 13th successful penalty since Kane’s painful miss against France in the 2022 World Cup quarter-finals.

Both teams might soon have scored again. Foden wriggled through the Dutch defence only to see his close-range effort cleared off the goal-line by Dumfries who, at the other end, clipped the top of Pickford’s bar with his header to a right-wing corner.

Foden was like a new player compared with earlier in the finals, always active, demanding the ball, teasing opponents. He struck the outside of Verbruggen’s goal with one curling effort then forced the keeper to a low save at that same right-hand post. The Dutch were relieved to reach the break on terms.

England continued to dominate in the early stages of the second half but could not make their possession count as Netherlands adopted the stifling, tight-lines strategy which had proved effective for Serbia and Slovakia against Southgate’s men.

Reflex save

They should have taken the lead, too, in the 64th minute but Pickford made a superb reflex save after Virgil van Dijk swooped at close range to attack a free kick from the right.

Netherlands now began to enjoy their first period of sustained possession, persuading Southgate it was time for the fresh attacking legs of Palmer and Watkins.

The switch proved more dramatically effective than even Southgate could have dreamed. In the last minute of normal time it was Palmer who broke free of the Dutch cover and it was Watkins who delivered the coup de grace.

Next stop Berlin.