Gareth Southgate 2.0 finally delivers the England team fans have been begging for

Gareth Southgate masterminded England’s 2-1 win over Netherlands to reach the Euro 2024 final (Picture: Getty)

A fortnight on from having been pelted with beer cups for the crime of steering England to the knockout stages of Euro 2024 with the minimum of fuss, Gareth Southgate is once again the toast of the nation.

Like a long-distance runner kicking for the finish line with immaculate timing to sweep past their rivals, England and their overly criticised manager are coming to the boil when it matters most.

Who knew that peaking in the group stages and throwing caution to the wind when there was little riding on what was effectively a dead rubber against Slovenia was not the most advisable course of action.

Perhaps the manager who has masterminded the most successful period in the history of the men’s national team, and not the 60 million armchair managers who obsess over Southgate’s every decision, did indeed know best.

England’s route to a date with destiny in Berlin has not been without its travails and up until last night there had been a lingering feeling that success was only likely to be achieved on the back of dour, safety-first football that was never likely to yield the best from the abundant talent Southgate is blessed to have at his disposal.

The 53-year-old has largely cut a tortured figure over the course of the last month and, with good reason, struggled to compute the avalanche of criticism that has flown in his direction.

Yet, despite his obvious and justifiable frustration, Southgate’s composure has never wavered. It is that unflappable nature which remains his best quality.

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Ollie Watkins scored England’s vital winning goal against Netherlands(Credits: REUTERS)

Harry Kane kept his composure to score England’s equaliser from the penalty spot (Picture: Getty)

While his predecessors would have crumpled and allowed a sense of paranoia to cripple their teams, England’s players, outwardly at least, thanks largely to their manager, have maintained a level of calm  that has belied some of the perilous situations they have found themselves in of late.

As results and performances have improved, so too has Southgate’s decision making, culminating in last night’s win which represented the best managerial performance of his career.

A goal down early on, courtesy of an uncharacteristic Declan Rice error, England appeared set for a night to forget. Not a bit of it.

Far more fluent and composed in the 3-4-2-1 formation that looks a perfect fit for England’s attacking players, the Three Lions shrugged off that early setback and clawed their way back into the contest.

An equaliser may have been the product of a ludicrous penalty decision that was branded a disgrace by Gary Neville, but a goal on the balance of play was merited.

England’s twin 10s, Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden, buzzed with intent, Bukayo Saka and Kyle Walker worked in tandem on the right flank while Kobbie Mainoo, parachuted into the starting XI after England’s insipid first two group games, cemented his status as the breakthrough midfield talent of the tournament.

Indeed, so dominant had Southgate’s men been that it was almost a disappointment that they went in level at the break.

The second half was a far more turgid, attritional affair that threatened to turn into the sort of stalemate that often renders 30 minutes of extra time and a penalty shootout inevitable.

Ronald Koeman is a canny and savvy manager who delights in frustrating his opposition and so it transpired that the Dutch began to strangle England.

Kobbie Mainoo has been the breakthrough midfield player of Euro 2024 (Picture: Getty)

Cole Palmer has made a huge impact as a substitute in England’s recent games (Picture: Getty)

Southgate in the past has been accused of allowing matches of this nature to drift and proven to be incapable of making the sort of in-game changes that can shift momentum.

With Harry Kane labouring up front and Foden’s spark burning out, would Southgate be brave enough to hook England’s most likely matchwinners?

While Roberto Martinez was left to count the cost of pandering to Cristiano Ronaldo’s gargantuan ego, Southgate was pragmatic enough to realise that the game required Ollie Watkins’ ability to stretch the backline and Cole Palmer’s daring, playmaking abilities.

It was the sort of double substitution that managers dream of as the pair combined to produce a winning goal of rare quality and a picture book moment that will go down in English sporting folklore.

An even sterner test awaits Southgate on Sunday. England’s women were out passed, outmanoeuvred and ultimately outclassed by their Spanish counterparts in the World Cup final last summer.

The evidence of the last month suggests this weekend’s showpiece occasion could follow a similar pattern but in Southgate 2.0 England have their best ever chance of breaking their men’s trophy drought.

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