Netherlands v England: Gareth Southgate faces defining days as manager at Euro 2024 (2024)

As he prepares for England's Euro 2024 semi-final with the Netherlands in Dortmund, manager Gareth Southgate faces the days that will define his legacy.

He has experienced the full range of emotions in Germany. From hostility and beer thrown at him following their draw with Slovenia in Cologne, to dancing in front of jubilant fans after the quarter-final win on penalties against Switzerland in Dusseldorf.

There is a growing belief Southgate's eight years in charge will come to an end after Euro 2024, whether that is following Wednesday's meeting with the Dutch or a final against Spain in Berlin on Sunday.

England's performances have been indifferent, but a mix of steely resilience and individual brilliance has placed them in the last four with the tantalising prospect of two contrasting conclusions to the tournament, and perhaps to Southgate's tenure.

If England lift the trophy at the Olympiastadion on Sunday, Southgate will go down in history, after 1966 World Cup winner Sir Alf Ramsey, as only the second manager to lead the men's team to success at a major tournament.

If his side go out to the Dutch, Southgate will be the manager who consistently led his team into what had been alien territory for so long, namely the latter stages of major tournaments, but could not quite get them over the line for the ultimate triumph.

England victories against the Netherlands and Spain would deliver Southgate's definitive answer to questions about his tactics and perceived conservative approach, which have shrouded his eight years despite an unprecedented record of leading them to three semi-finals and a final - the Wembley loss on penalties to Italy at Euro 2020.

The caveat to all this is England have failed to clear the final hurdle, which is why so much rests on events at Westfalenstadion on Wednesday.

Southgate has suffered at times in Germany, his voice faltering and hesitant when asked by BBC 5 Live Sport whether he was hurt by the criticism after the Slovenia encounter.

He visibly bristled when questioned about whether England had landed in the more favourable half of the draw, labelling it "a classic example of the entitlement we have as a nation that creates drama and annoys our opponents".

He has not lost his composure publicly, but there has been an edge and angst to Southgate that has not been present at other tournaments. It is clear the criticism has wounded him.

"This is a job where you get ridiculed and your professional capability is questioned beyond belief," he said. "I don't think it's normal to have beer thrown at you either, but my life's taken me through a lot of resilience and it's made me more determined. I'm just using it as fuel."

England did, after all, win Group C almost in spite of themselves. The small number of people hurling beer behaved unacceptably and lacked in the respect Southgate is due.

His delight at flipping the angry reaction on its head with the win against Switzerland was made plain by his impromptu jig in front of fans who had turned on England and the manager during and after their group-game draws against Denmark and Slovenia.

Southgate also complained about the media - purely doing its job to inform and not in attendance at Euro 2024 as cheerleaders - for revealing changes in formation before the Switzerland game, referring "our own media leaking tactical information two hours after we've walked off the training pitch".

This, more than anything, hints at an England camp that had not been as tight as at previous tournaments and appeared, at times, to be flat, in the early part of Euro 2024 at least.

For all that, the Three Lions are in the semi-final with a chance for Southgate and his players to write a glorious new chapter in their sporting history.

He cut a relaxed figure in his media briefing at Westfalenstadion, suggesting there was a different mood and drive around the squad as they have progressed through Euro 2024.

Southgate said: "One of our strengths over the years has been having less fear, showing less inhibition but, at the beginning of the tournament, the expectation weighed heavily and the noise from outside had never been louder. We couldn't quite get ourselves in the right place.

"Now it's about what is possible and not what might go wrong. This is now the chance to make history. We are trying to break new ground and that is not easy but the players have been resilient."

The manager has had praise for his work too, as former England striker Chris Sutton told BBC 5 Live Sport after they reached the last four: "Gareth Southgate has proved a hell of a lot of people wrong at this tournament. I'm delighted for him. Gareth talked about beer being thrown at him in certain games and what have you... that is not the way to treat an England manager.

"You think about his record as England manager. Out of the last four tournaments, three semi-finals and a quarter-final, with a final in there as well. You have people saying he's not an inventive manager and he's a poor manager, he's done it again. Gareth South-great."

England face an old adversary in Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman, who played in their 3-1 win over Sir Bobby Robson's side in the 1988 European Championship in Dusseldorf, but was also an infamous figure for his part in a World Cup qualifier between the sides in October 1993.

Koeman dragged David Platt back when he was clean through with the scoreline goalless, escaped with only a yellow card, then scored a free-kick five minutes later as England - needing just a point to qualify for the 1994 finals - went down to a damaging 2-0 defeat. He had finished his international career before England's stunning 4-1 Wembley win at Euro '96.

In his second spell in charge, Koeman has led the Netherlands into the semi-final and looking increasingly confident and dangerous, having recovered from a 3-2 loss to Austria in the group stage. They will present a stern examination.

But England and Southgate find themselves two games from history.

And the history books would simply record England's achievement - not how they played to write that new chapter.

It will either end with Euro 2024 glory or another bitter disappointment of Southgate and his team falling short once more. This much goes on the line in Dortmund.

Netherlands v England: Gareth Southgate faces defining days as manager at Euro 2024 (2024)

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