Lisbon - A year on from a World Cup semi-final defeat, England were taught the
same lesson in the last four of the Nations League as a technically
superior opponent in the Netherlands came from behind to fully earn
their place in the final with a 3-1 victory.
Much has been made of England's development in the 12 months since
crumbling to Croatia in Moscow after Luka Modric took control of the
England beat Croatia and Spain to reach another semi-final and even
more exciting talent has been added to one of the youngest squads on
show in Russia. Jadon Sancho (19), Declan Rice (20) and Ben Chilwell
(22) all started against the Dutch.
Yet, again England's lack of a midfield conductor was exposed. Modric
emptied the tank in Russia to crown a glorious career by winning the
Ballon d'Or, even if Croatia fell short against France in the World Cup
In Guimaraes on Thursday, Frenkie de Jong showed why he is destined
to be a world star for a decade to come and why Barcelona paid €75
million for his services next season in January,
even before he helped inspire Ajax's run to the semi-finals of the
Ajax blew a lead themselves against Tottenham to miss out on the
Champions League final and the presence of two English teams in
Saturday's Champions League final, won by Liverpool, meant there were
mitigating factors to quell the disappointment of defeat.
Southgate decided against starting any of the seven players in his
squad involved in Madrid with Harry Kane and Jordan Henderson left on
Come next summer at Euro 2020, England will be better prepared to end
a long wait since 1966 to win a trophy with the semi-finals and final
"We could be playing qualifying matches somewhere else, we are not,
we are playing in another semi-final," said Southgate. "It makes it more
painful but it was more important to be playing in another game like
tonight ahead of next summer.
"At the moment against some of the best teams we have not been able
to get over the line in two semi-finals. We just have to keep working
That evolution, though, means
keeping the same philosophy to build from the back, even if it did cause
England's downfall on Thursday.
For both the Netherlands' goals in extra-time, John Stones and Ross
Barkley gave away possession needlessly on the edge of their own box.
"I'm asking them to play in a way that puts them under huge pressure
at the back," added Southgate. "If we didn't play that way, we wouldn't
get to the semi-finals we have got to and we would never progress to be a
"That's the way I believe they can play and should play. We didn't lose because of the way we play.
"The errors were uncharacteristic, not errors we would make. It wasn't risk, it was just poor execution and fatigue."
Yet, the lack of match sharpness shown by Stones and Barkley
demonstrates that despite English clubs' domination of European football
this season, there is still a long way for Southgate and the national
team to go.
Stones was starting his first game since April 20 having been deemed
surplus to requirements for Manchester City's run-in to the Premier
League title by Pep Guardiola.
Barkley too was not a regular starter for Chelsea this season, but has been an England mainstay over the past year.
"The key is that we have over the last two years tried to get the
best performances from the players we have," said Southgate. "We've
improved enormously as a team."
That improvement has to continue if the Three Lions are to break
through the glass ceiling of semi-finals on home soil next summer.