England extra-time misery after John Stones’ blunder lets in Netherlands

England led through a Marcus Rashford penalty but lost 3-1 after extra time in the Nations League semi-final against the Netherlands

It was an ignominious way for England to lose and a reminder, perhaps, that no matter the scale of improvement under Gareth Southgate it is still easy sometimes to slip into bad old habits – in this case a valiant attempt to be recognised as international football’s Slapstick XI once the game had gone into extra time.

If that sounds slightly harsh, how else could that traumatic half an hour be analysed when two of the goals scored by the Netherlands came from the kind of defensive howlers that show Southgate’s team are still getting to grips with the modern era of knocking the ball around their own penalty area?

It might look good when it comes off. Not so much, though, when Ross Barkley has his face down in the turf, not wanting to look up and survey the damage after his mistake for the third Dutch goal. Or when Jordan Pickford is screaming at John Stones, another one wandering round with the look of a zombie, for the fairly dreadful error that began the capitulation.

For Stones, this was a personal ordeal in keeping with a season on the fringes of Manchester City’s success. The records will show it was Kyle Walker’s own goal that put the Netherlands in front. In reality it was Stones who endangered his team, dilly-dallying on the ball with Memphis Depay in close proximity, losing possession and watching the rest unfurl without being able to do anything about it.

It was difficult to know which was the more calamitous goal and, unfortunately for Stones, he had a part in both. It was Stones, after all, who played the pass that put Barkley under pressure and saw him, as the last man, lose the ball to Depay again. Quincy Promes, one of the Dutch substitutes, was waiting to turn in Depay’s pass to make it 3-1 and that, for England, was that – another semi-final defeat and another story of squandering a first-half lead, just as they had done against Croatia during last summer’s World Cup.

Quincy Promes scores the Netherland’ third goal past the terribly exposed Jordan Pickford. Photograph: Susana Vera/Reuters

At least this time the consequences are not so high and England’s late collapse came in the Nations League – a competition that not everyone takes seriously. Yet a final is a final and there was still a tremendous sense of disappointment for Southgate and his players, particularly when they think back on taking the lead via Marcus Rashford’s first-half penalty and, at 1-1, the celebrations in the 84th minute when they thought the substitute Jesse Lingard had scored a potential winner. It would have been a brilliant goal: a drag-back from Raheem Sterling, a beautifully measured through-ball from Barkley, followed by a precise finish. Instead the VAR officials had noted Lingard was marginally offside. The goal was ruled out and England deteriorated from that point.

In those moments it must have been startling for Southgate to see their mix of naivety and carelessness. Too often Stones has been guilty of the kind of lapses in concentration that saw him lose the ball to Depay and give the former Manchester United player a chance to take aim at Jordan Pickford’s goal. It was a one-handed, scrambling save from England’s goalkeeper but the ball was loose. Pickford could not get up quickly enough and, even with Walker’s renowned pace, Promes slid in first. Even then, the ball would have squirted wide of the goal until it looped in off the luckless Walker, leaving Pickford furiously remonstrating with Stones.

When Promes gave the Netherlands a two-goal cushion, with 114 minutes on the clock, the England supporters started heading away in their droves, knowing their team would not be going to Porto for Sunday’s final against Portugal but returning to Guimarães for the third-v-fourth play-off against Switzerland.

Matthijs de Ligt scythes down Marcus Rashford to allow the England forward to open the scoring from the spot. Photograph: Hugo Delgado/EPA

England had the backing of three-quarters of the stadium and enough support to make it resemble a home game. There were only two corners of Vitória’s ground populated by the garish shirts of Oranje, which was probably an indication about how the Dutch remain a bit aloof to this competition. Otherwise it was an English invasion, and who could the blame the Dutch fans for their “Olés” late on? As usual, the dunderheads among England’s support had somehow felt it necessary to whistle, boo and shout down the Dutch national anthem.

Ultimately it was a triumphant night, too, for Matthijs de Ligt bearing in mind it was his mistake, letting the ball run under his foot, that panicked him into fouling Rashford for the penalty.

De Ligt’s status as one of the outstanding young players in Europe is likely to mean him joining Barcelona later this summer. On this occasion he was badly at fault for England’s goal and also had to endure being nutmegged by Jadon Sancho before heading in a corner to launch the Dutch fightback.

Rashford was injured in the first half, meaning Southgate brought on Harry Kane sooner than he would ideally have liked on a night when England’s manager did not start with any of his Champions League finalists from Liverpool and Tottenham.

That selection meant Sterling taking over as captain – for the first half anyway – on the evening of his 50th cap. Fabian Delph, who has not started a Premier League game for Manchester City since Boxing Day, was flanked by Declan Rice and Barkley in midfield, with Sterling and Sancho in the attacking wide positions.

Walker and Ben Chilwell both had the licence to push forward from their full-back positions and, in those moments, Rice tended to drop in between Stones and Harry Maguire, the two centre-halves.

Southgate cannot be criticised too heavily for trusting his players to play out of defence but sometimes a team can over-elaborate. At one point Walker lost possession to the alert Depay and was grateful Pickford kept out the shot. Frenkie de Jong was superb and England, once again, had fallen short.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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