Eleven months on from Russia, England fall flat in another semi-final

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Jan Kruger
The Three Lions had their shot at reaching the first ever Nations League final, but were once again punished by costly errors

Eleven months on from Moscow, England lose another semi-final, in extra-time, after going 1-0 up. 

This time the opposition was the Netherlands and not Croatia and the competition the UEFA Nations League instead of the World Cup. 

But the outcome is the same. 

Gareth Southgate and this group of players have got to be asking themselves how this can continue to happen and also asking how they might overcome it and see things through. 

It’s easy to look at the incidents in question – those conceded goals – and deduce that they were individual errors. 

But England were mastered in possession throughout – with the Dutch creating the best chances in open play – and always looking like they had enough in the tank to get the job done. 

Jesse Lingard might well have won it at the end of 90 minutes for England but a fine team goal was annulled after consultation with the VAR. 

Aside from that it was Marcus Rashford’s penalty which put England ahead in the first half. However bad England were in conceding their goals, Matthijs de Ligt matched it. 

Matthijs de Ligt Marcus Rashford Netherlands England 2019

He is regarded as the coming force in world football at centre back for good reason but his casualness in possession caused the foul on Rashford. 

If things appear a little too easy for the 19-year-old currently then this came as a reminder that there is plenty of hard work still ahead of him in his promising young career. 

But once ahead, England couldn’t stay there. Jordan Pickford fielded decent if tame efforts from the likes of Memphis Depay and Steven Bergwijn and for all their emerging talent elsewhere, there is a sense that Ronald Koeman’s side currently lack a bona fide front man. 

Memphis was lively and provoked mistakes in the England defence but should have bagged at least a goal for himself. 

Instead the goalscoring was left to De Ligt and substitute Quincy Promes. But how England handed it to them. 

De Ligt came in like a steam train to level from a corner. John Stones simply could not hang with his power and he finished inside the near post. 

The second, which killed the contest, Stones won’t want to see again either. He has been guilty of overplaying his entire career and has had the occasional reprieve, but no such luck this evening. 

Pickford tried his best, making a fine save from Memphis after Stones was punished for his indecision but Kyle Walker could not prevent Promes’s effort rebounding off him and finding the net. 

Stones was involved again in the third. Ross Barkley won’t be thanking his former Everton team-mate for the pass but Promes’s pressure, combined with Memphis’s cool head inside the box, put the Dutch out of sight. 

Netherlands England Nations League

This was a good opportunity to learn and to get some match practice against testing opposition and they blew it. 

There was a lack of assuredness on the ball throughout, even more so when Fabian Delph was exchanged for Jordan Henderson. 

That’s not to say that Henderson played badly, but when faced with the talent and organisation of Frenkie De Jong and Gini Wijnaldum - who last Saturday won the Champions League - England's inability to hold the ball was brought to light.

They will have the third-place playoff against Switzerland on Sunday, but the meaningful stuff is over. They depart Portugal with nothing to show. Their unloved supporters go too. Plenty among that group will not be missed. 

They tore up streets in Porto, they launched bottles at police and at cars belonging to locals. It was another shameful episode in the story, one that is occurring now with wearying regularity. 

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Quite what the solution is remains another matter. 

The Nations League final goes on without them. We may not have had Germany, France, Spain or Belgium here, but it’s still got a decent final, with the two best teams on show so far shaping up for a decent fight. 

For England – who have been battering Euro 2020 qualification – another reminder that they are too good for the bad teams, still not good enough for the good ones. 

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