England View – Marc Iles

BEATING Guus Hiddink’s Netherlands 4-1 in Euro 96 is still the best it has ever been for me, an England fan of more than four decades.

Two goals for Alan Shearer, two for Teddy Sheringham, a peroxide blonde-haired Paul Gascoigne running amok against a team stacked with household names who had just lifted the Champions League with Ajax.

Nothing screamed Cool Britannia like that third goal – Gazza inside to Sheringham, a feint and an inside ball to Shearer to take the roof off the top of the net.

How the 17-year-old me celebrated that one, A Level revision abandoned completely in favour of a night on the mega-lash in Manchester.

Alan Shearer scores England's first goal from the penalty spot in 1996Alan Shearer scores England's first goal from the penalty spot in 1996 (Image: PA)

Rewatching the game recently, I took a slightly revised view of the match. But for their unsuccessful semi-final against the Germans, this was unquestionably England’s best performance, but I had forgotten just how close to Dutch had come to making a much tighter game of it.

David Seaman kept his team in the first half, which seemed to be a long string of defensive set pieces before Paul Ince won the penalty for the first goal, and Dennis Bergkamp, well, I could watch him all day even now.

When I think back to Euro 96 I don’t remember the bad bits – the dour draw with Switzerland and the nerves against Spain, they have all have faded like the memory of that God-awful Simply Red song which they sang before the tournament began.

My memory is selective where England is concerned, it is the only way I can carry on putting myself through this. I remember the words to Three Lions, Gazza’s goal against the Scots and giving the Netherlands their biggest hiding in 20 years.

I have given up hope of seeing the modern-day England rack up that sort of scoreline or even giving me that sort of instant gratification. It must be an age thing.

It would be marvellous to think that there is that type of performance, a lightbulb moment hiding deep down in Gareth Southgate’s squad which will make all the cynicism and doubt disappear, Men in Black style. Even Sunday’s penalty win against the Swiss made me left feeling more relieved than elated, and every step they have taken so far seems to have been marked with an asterisk.

It shouldn’t be that way and when you think back to the glorious failures of England’s past, would an ounce more of Southgate’s pragmatism have turned them into successes? Would the counter measuring years of hurt have been set back to zero?

If tonight’s game can come close to that June afternoon at Wembley, then I might be inclined to chuck on some Fugees, grab a bottle of Hooch and make it 1996 all over again.

Ezri Konsa battles with Breel Embolo in England's quarter final win at Euro 2024Ezri Konsa battles with Breel Embolo in England's quarter final win at Euro 2024 (Image: PA)

England View – Dan Barnes

Ezri Konsa has provided Gareth Southgate with a selection headache in defence – but it is a good problem to have as England prepare for their Netherlands clash.

There were question marks over who would slot into the backline after Marc Guehi picked up a second yellow card against Slovakia.

The Crystal Palace man had impressed during the opening games of the tournament, slotting in seamlessly alongside John Stones.

Southgate opted to switch to a back five against Switzerland and Konsa was thrown in at the deep end.

He was given the tough task of handling Breel Embolo at times but did an admirable job, using his physical attributes to nullify the Monaco forward.

When Embolo managed to get on the scoresheet 15 minutes from time, it was Kyle Walker who had let him get goal-side.

A return to the bench would be incredibly harsh on Konsa after his performance against the Swiss, which is why Southgate finds himself in a tough spot.

Guehi would also be hard done by not to make the side. The only other option would be to drop Walker, or even move him to wing-back. The Manchester City veteran has been a key figure for England under Southgate but hasn’t exactly set the world alight in Germany.

Kieran Trippier also isn’t in his best form but, in fairness, had been filling in at left-back prior while Luke Shaw was unavailable to the Switzerland clash. Regardless of which personnel Southgate picks against the Dutch, England must build on the resilience that has helped them reach the last four.

The Three Lions haven’t conceded more than one goal in any of their five tournament matches so far and while the football hasn’t been pretty at times, Jordan Pickford has been rather quiet between the sticks most of the time (penalties aside).

That record is particularly pleasing given Harry Maguire’s absence from the squad. He might have had a rocky spell at club level but the centre-back has been a dependable figure on the international stage.

Now, the backline is in for its biggest test yet against a Dutch squad with some serious firepower in the final third.

Kieran Trippier hugs Gareth Southgate after the quarter final winKieran Trippier hugs Gareth Southgate after the quarter final win (Image: PA)

England View – Marc Iles

By 7pm tonight, any England fan who has done half an ounce of research will have a good idea what Gareth Southgate’s team will look like way before the team-sheet comes out.

The tabloids tend to write their informed views on the day of the game, dozens and dozens of websites will have had their stab at the starting line-up, and thousands more will have had their say on social media.

When you consider the options, there are really not that many realistic permutations, especially when a head count is taken at every training session by reporters who are present.

It really surprised me that Gareth Southgate had a little nibble at the press ‘leaking’ information about his proposed changes against Switzerland. It is literally part of their job out there in Germany.

I can understand how it can be perceived as unhelpful but the writers who have spent 24/seven following the team in the last few weeks can’t very well pretend they don’t know what’s coming, when it was obvious to someone like myself, sat miles away.

Of course he was going to match up the Swiss. The shape hadn’t worked to that point.

His opposition were playing quite well, there was little chance they were going to change direction, so with Marc Guehi suspended it was a very obvious move and knowing about it 24 hours in advance was not going to change a thing.

I have had similar grumbles and accusations from managers in the past, asking why I’d speculate on what their team would be, or how it would line-up. And my answer is always the same: “It’s my job.”

In this digital day and age, there are surely no true surprises. If Southgate played Anthony Gordon at centre-back, or Kieran Trippier as a right wing-back (wink) then maybe Ronald Koeman would get caught on the hop. But surely an international manager should have faith in his own gameplan and players to get the job done?