rte.ie

Prescient Watkins insists he saw winner coming

Ollie Watkins said he had a premonition about the last-gasp goal that swept England into the Euro 2024 final with a dramatic 2-1 comeback win over the Netherlands.

Watkins took a pass from fellow late substitute Cole Palmer and fired home from a tight angle in the 90th minute to seal a showdown with Spain on Sunday.

And the Aston Villa man praised both his team-mate and the never-say-die spirit that has taken Gareth Southgate's side all the way against all the odds.

Watkins said: "Unbelievable. I’ve been waiting for that moment for weeks. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to where I am now. I’m grateful I got the opportunity and I grabbed it with both hands and I’m delighted.

"I swear on my life, on my kids’ lives, I said to Cole Palmer 'We’re coming on and you’re going to set me up' and that’s why I was so happy with Coley, I knew as soon as he got the ball he was going to play me in.

"You’ve got to be greedy, touch and shoot and when I see it going into the bottom corner it’s the best feeling ever.

"There’s been a lot of criticism but at the end of the day we’re in the final and that’s all that matters. Forget all the outside noise, we’re in the final.

"We’ve got that kind of bounce-back factor, going a goal behind seems to kick us into gear. We never give up. We’ve won on penalties and come from behind. There’s one more game now – we’re ready."

Jude Bellingham insisted that England's path to the final had been forged through their setbacks in the early stages of the tournament.

The midfielder believes the criticism they faced in the group phase then in the wake of a fortunate escape against Slovakia in the last 16 has left them better equipped to cope at the business-end of the tournament.

Bellingham told ITV: "Finding a way, that character, mentality, attitude of anyone can win us the game if they’re given us the chance and Ollie came on today and did that, and I’m grateful because I don’t know if I had another half-hour in me.

"I think it’s something that’s built through failure, through the first few games that didn’t go so well. There’s criticism when you don’t play well, it’s important that you build that fire, you build that resistance, understand that you can do better.

"In these games we come together like no other team and we’ve done it again."

England looked a different team for much of the match to the side that had struggled through the group stages, following a sluggish opening win over Serbia with successive draws against Denmark and Slovenia.

Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane were in jubilant form after the final whistle in Dortmund

And it was Bellingham who got his side out of a deeper hole in their last 16 clash with Slovakia with his last-gasp overhead kick to level matters and set them up for victory in the extra period.

They marginally improved again against Switzerland in the last eight and when asked if England were now playing with greater freedom, Bellingham added: "I think time does that as well. These moments are great, it brings us together as a team, as a family, something we have in common being here another day, it means we live through these moments together and because of that you get stronger.

"These moments definitely make us stronger, they make us more together and we take that into the final now.

"Spain have looked amazing, they’ve looked really good but it’s a one-off game and anything can happen. We know our weapons, we’ll do the right analysis, we’ll sit down and watch them and understand how they play as well. A great team with weapons of their own so it will be interesting to go toe-to-toe with them."

Harry Kane got England back into the match with his first-half penalty and can now look forward to becoming the first England captain to lead his team out in a major final on foreign soil on Sunday.

Kane was replaced by Watkins and watched from the bench as the Aston Villa man, a surprise selection in the squad for some, snatched his chance superbly to seal England’s place in back-to-back finals.

Kane said: "History made, an amazing achievement. I’m proud of every single player, every single member of staff, everyone, I’m so proud.

"It’s been a really difficult tournament, but to do what we’ve done away from home is a special feeling. There’s one more left and we need to get that one on Sunday.

"We talk about being ready. We’re big in the team on being ready when it matters. It might be five minutes, you might get one minute but you can make a difference, you can win the tournament. Ollie’s been patient but what a finish, I’m so happy. He deserves it and we need everyone again on Sunday.

"I think we were the better team, especially in the first half. We had a lot of control and even at 1-0 down we were patient, we stayed calm. In the second half there were some tired legs, but overall I thought we deserved to win the game and with a finish like that we deserved it."

Asked about the penalty decision, Kane added: "I don’t know, but my foot was hanging off so he definitely caught me. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. I was happy to step up and to see it go in the net was a nice feeling for sure. I’m just happy to be through to the final."

Read full news in source page