WHO says Gareth Southgate doesn’t make game-changing substitutions? With ten minutes of last night’s Euro 2024 semi-final remaining, and with his side having been pegged back after a superb first-half showing, Southgate threw on Ollie Watkins to replace Harry Kane. Ten minutes later, and England’s latest super-sub had fired his side to their first major tournament final on overseas soil.

Watkins’ finish settled a thrilling semi-final that had seen England play their best football of the tournament by a distance in the opening 45 minutes, only to retreat back into their shell in the second half.

Harry Kane had cancelled out Xavi Simons’ early opened via a hotly-contested penalty, Phil Foden had curled a brilliant effort against the upright and Bukayo Saka had seen a second-half goal ruled out for the narrowest of offsides.

Was it not going to be England’s night? Watkins had other ideas, converting his only opportunity of the evening with the kind of clinical composure that has been a feature of his side’s key moments throughout the tournament. Spain will start as favourites on Sunday, but England have seemingly unstoppable momentum on their side.

While Marc Guehi was back in last night’s line-up replacing his weekend stand-in, Ezri Konsa, Southgate stuck with the new defensive shape he had introduced for the Switzerland game. Seven minutes in, however, and the English backline was breached by a wonderful Dutch opener.

Declan Rice wasn’t quite able to bring the ball under control after Guehi cleared his lines with a defensive header, and his lack of precision proved decisive. Simons stole possession off him, and with Kyle Walker backing off, the 21-year-old advanced towards the 18-yard box.

Simons isn’t quite as young as Lamine Yamal, but this also been a breakthrough tournament for the Paris St Germain winger, who spent last season impressing on loan at RB Leipzig. Like Yamal one night earlier, Simons announced his arrival on the international stage in the grandest of fashions, hammering a superb finish into the top left-hand corner.

Trailing for the third knockout game in a row, England needed to show the kind of mettle Southgate has been describing as one of his side’s key assets. They did, but crucially they also displayed the creativity and swagger that had been lacking from all of their previous displays in Germany.

With the Dutch side’s attacking mindset leaving them wide open in midfield, England’s players suddenly had space in which to get on the ball and drive forward. Having been so one-dimensional in their earlier matches, they were completely transformed as a consequence.

Kane almost equalised with a 25-yard shot that was beaten away by Bart Verbruggen to his right, and the England skipper was also the integral figure in his side’s controversial 14th-minute equaliser.

Kane had got his shot away when he was caught by Denzel Dumfries on the foot, having latched onto a loose ball after Saka’s initial effort was blocked. At first, it seemed as if the incident was going to go unchecked, but German referee Felix Zwayer was instructed to visit his touchline screen and awarded a penalty. Kane did not have the chance to score from the spot when he was on the bench as Saturday’s last-16 game finished level after extra-time, but he was to make no mistake here, drilling into the bottom corner.

Suddenly, unlike so many of the knockout matches in this tournament, the game was ripped wide open, with Foden excelling. The Manchester City playmaker, finally afforded a free role behind Kane, thought he had scored midway through the first half when he broke on to Kobbie Mainoo’s pass, dribbled his way to the edge of the six-yard box and slipped a low shot through Verbruggen’s legs. Somehow, a backtracking Dumfries hacked clear from the line.

Foden went even closer ten minutes later, drifting infield from the right and curling a brilliant effort against the outside of the left-hand post. In between those two chances, Dumfries rose to meet a Dutch corner at the other end and thumped a powerful header against the crossbar. It was breathless stuff.

It was never going to last for the full 90 minutes, and sure enough, Ronald Koeman’s decision to throw on Wout Weghorst at half-time altered the flow of the game. With Weghorst leading the line, the Dutch pulled all their other attacking players back into midfield. As a result, England no longer had the run of the central third.

Southgate also made a change at the break, bringing on Luke Shaw for Kieran Trippier, and while England’s subsequent reversion to more of a back four tightened things up, it also served to neuter much of their attacking threat. The second half, largely devoid of chances, was much more reminiscent of England’s earlier tournament play.

There was barely a shot from either team after the interval, although Pickford’s reflexes had to be at their sharpest to prevent the Netherlands from reclaiming the lead in the 65th minute. Virgil van Dijk prodded the ball goalwards as he met a free-kick that was whipped in from the right, but Pickford got down smartly to beat the ball away.

England’s attacking threat had petered away to pretty much nothing, with Kane once again a spectator and Jude Bellingham cutting an increasingly frustrated figure. Southgate opted not to make an attacking change until the 80th minute, but when he did make a switch, it proved decisive.

Watkins came on to replace Kane, and in the final minute, the Aston Villa striker scored the greatest goal of his life. Receiving the ball with his back to goal in the 18-yard box, Watkins spun around Stefan de Vrij and drilled a clinical low strike into the bottom left-hand corner. With a turn and a finish, England were in the final.