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Netherlands 1-2 England analysis: How Ollie Watkins impacted the semi-final

UEFA technical observers Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Avram Grant were dazzled by England forward Ollie Watkins in the semi-final win against Netherlands.

Ollie Watkins' late goal sent England into a second consecutive EURO final
Ollie Watkins' late goal sent England into a second consecutive EURO final AFP via Getty Images

He stepped onto the pitch in Dortmund in the 81st minute and had only four involvements in the action. Yet for Ollie Watkins, one of them proved the most important of his career – the goal that sent England to the final of EURO 2024, their first-ever final appearance at a major tournament outside their own country.

It was a stunning turn from the substitute, and it earned him the Player of the Match award from UEFA technical observers Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Avram Grant, who hailed not just the "great individual goal" that downed Netherlands but also the "all-round impact" of the Aston Villa forward.

The match as it happened

"I know how Watkins is feeling now," added Solskjær, once a famed supersub himself, of the match winner who showed impressive purpose from the moment he entered the contest. Right away he pressed Netherlands goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen and the key thing he brought to England's attack was the late runs in behind which form the focus of this video analysis – and led to his decisive 91st-minute strike.

Tactical analysis: Watkins' instant impact

Watkins made six runs in behind and clip one shows him on the move barely 60 seconds after coming on.

It is worth pointing out the position between the lines of his fellow substitute Cole Palmer, which draws the attention of Virgil van Dijk. The Netherlands captain then steps out of his back line to follow Watkins, who first goes short before heading in behind. The pass does not come this time, but it will do soon enough as we see in clip two.

Here we see an initial run by Bukayo Saka that leaves the Dutch defence disjointed with Van Dijk focused on Palmer on the left. Cue a run from Watkins into the space behind Van Dijk. Palmer finds him with the through ball and though Stefan de Vrij has followed the forward, Watkins is able to shield the ball before turning and unleashing a brilliant shot across the goalkeeper and inside the far post.

Watkins: 'It's the best feeling ever'

Explaining why he sent Watkins on, England manager Gareth Southgate said: "We felt we needed some more legs up front. Harry [Kane] had taken a knock when he won the penalty in the first half. You know that Ollie can press a little better, and he will make those runs that are a problem for defenders early in a game but definitely later."

Watkins made as many runs in behind during his 15 minutes on the pitch as Kane had in 81, though the latter is a different kind of striker who received the ball ten times between the lines, enabling others to make those runs. With Kane there, Phil Foden made his 13 runs in behind and Jude Bellingham ten of his eventual 12.

The observers praised "England's willingness to run in behind" and another noteworthy aspect was the resilience of a side who have become the first team to reach a EURO final after conceding first in each of their last-16, quarter-final and semi-final ties. Their substitutes have played their part in this, fitting a wider theme of the tournament. After Ivan Toney's assist for Kane's winner against Slovakia, and Palmer, Toney and Trent Alexander-Arnold's spot kicks against Switzerland, here was Watkins becoming the seventh substitute overall at this EURO to hit a winning goal.

Southgate: 'We came here to make history'

Southgate spoke about "the mentality of the players who were all ready to deliver" and that certainly applied to both Watkins and Palmer. The match winner himself added: "I said to Cole Palmer we were both going to go on the pitch and he would set me up and it happened. You don’t get that opportunity very often and I had to be greedy and take the shot." And, with it, stamp England's ticket to the final.