England View – Marc Iles

I HAVE arrived at the conclusion that Panicky England are better than regular old Calm England, so suggest this… Let’s start Wednesday’s semi-final in the 80th minute with the Netherlands 1-0 up, forego all the plodding pre-amble, cut straight to the chase.

Make Gareth Southgate make some reactive decisions from the gut, throw on whatever player he feels can make a difference in the moment, create some jeopardy from the first kick of the game.

England will wake up, inject some urgency into their game, start testing the hitherto relaxed Dutch defence with a few crosses, shots from outside the box, and then – just as we all write the game off as a bad job, we get a goal.

I’d even venture to suggest we can scrub out extra time and save the energy for the final, let’s just go straight to penalties because we’re looking rather good at those now.

Bukayo Saka celebrates scoring for England against SwitzerlandBukayo Saka celebrates scoring for England against Switzerland (Image: PA)

All sarcasm aside, Southgate and his players have regularly mentioned ‘character’ in their interviews over the last couple of weeks, and it is a hard quality to define, especially when you feel so underwhelmed by the football you have watched.

Of course, to come back in the way they did against Slovakia requires mental fortitude, and so did defending so well for the vast majority of their group games. They have got this far without anything being perfect and perhaps we should all stop thinking it ever will be?

One thing is for certain, however, and that is England’s players showed real guts to step up and take penalties against Switzerland with such swagger. Forget the debatable 120 minutes which went before, that was truly the mark of a quality team.

We have a complex history with penalty shoot-outs in this country, of course, but one wonders if it is something that just matters to us old folk?

England have won three out of four under Southgate, with the Euro 2020 final against Italy the only exception. And that is why it was so gratifying to see Bukayo Saka take the ball, score from the spot, and brush off any memories he might have had about that night at Wembley.

These young men don’t seem to carry the same baggage from 12 yards as the teams that went before. They are cocky, they are borderline arrogant, but they get the job done. I mean, analyse Ivan Toney’s technique. He just about stared the goalkeeper out before poking the ball past him. It is a feat of psychological genius.

Cole Palmer actually seemed to be enjoying himself as he walked up to take his penalty. That is Hannibal Lecter-level of malevolent composure.

England are messing with everyone’s heads at this Euros. And long may it continue.

Guy Mowbray, centre, is at the top of his game for the BBCGuy Mowbray, centre, is at the top of his game for the BBC (Image: PA)

TV View – Marc Iles

I genuinely wish I was watching the game Gary Lineker and Co were describing but the BBC pundits’ over-the-top positivity had me scratching my head a little on Saturday evening.

After getting some blowback on supposedly negative comments earlier in the competition, it felt a little like Lineker, Frank Lampard, Micah Richards and Rio Ferdinand were overcompensating in their effusive praise of the first 45 minutes.

England were OK, certainly more balanced than they had been in previous games, but they had failed to muster a shot on target when the cameras cut back to the studio and the panel waxed lyrical about Phil Foden’s new central role and the wonder that is Ezri Konsa. Had Bukayo Saka failed to equalise, it would have been fascinating to see the gear change.

The BBC had to mute the audio of their pundits’ reaction to Alexander-Arnold’s winner because Lineker dropped the ‘F-bomb’. He wasn’t the only one – and it was just about the most relatable thing uttered in the studio all day.

As usual, Guy Mowbray got it. Halfway through that stale second half he made a great quip – “The Swiss cowbells are ringing but all I can hear are alarm bells.”

Now very much the BBC’s main commentary man, and like the best in his business can keep things professional but still remain relatable and give just a hint of the disappointment or elation he is feeling as a football fan.

“Trent took the net off,” he roared for the winning penalty, with a line that deserves to go down as the best at the Euros so far.

Unlike others I could mention, Mowbray doesn’t seek those soundbites. His words rarely sound pre-planned and while I’ll mark him down a little for lapsing into stereotype and mentioning ‘Toblerones’ a few too many times, his performance on the day was head and shoulders above the rest.

Graham Taylor in the Yellow Pages advert back in 1994Graham Taylor in the Yellow Pages advert back in 1994 (Image: YouTube)

Euro View – Marc Iles

One of my all-time favourite bits of football-related nostalgia happened 30 years ago, as the much-missed Graham Taylor, Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables united to make an advert for Yellow Pages.

For those who haven’t seen it – and please do, it’s on YouTube - the two previous England managers were sending a good-luck cake to the new guy in charge (Venables) and Taylor was asked what colour he wanted the cake to be, famously quipping: “Do I not like orange!”

It’s a lovely advert, made more poignant by the fact all three men are sadly no longer with us.

Taylor’s line harked back to the nightmare of 1993, when Ronald Koeman and the Netherlands inflicted a damaging defeat on England, ultimately leading to their failure to qualify for the World Cup and his own sacking.

Koeman should have been sent off for a professional foul on David Platt but ended up scoring the winning goal with a free kick I can still replay in my head to this day.

If Gareth Southgate feels he has been hammered unfairly by the press during this tournament, he ought to cast his mind back then. Poor Taylor got hounded out of the ‘Impossible Job’ – which then became the title of what still stands as the greatest football documentary of all time, in which he coined his famous phrase.

Venables did exact a measure of revenge a few years later, his England team hammering the Netherlands at Euro 96. That performance basically conned us all into thinking the team had played well at that tournament but if you go back, some of the performances were very dour indeed. Funny how history can be rewritten, isn’t it?

Wednesday’s semi-final will be the first time England have faced the Netherlands since then at a major tournament and I’d love to imagine Messrs Taylor, Robson and Venables sat around a table enjoying a view from above.