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Positive England substitutions show Southgate’s progress

Positive England substitutions show Southgate’s progress

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Positive England substitutions show Southgate's progress

The decisive introduction of Cole Palmer and Ollie Watkins as 80th-minute subs in Wednesday’s Euros victory over the Netherlands showed that, even after 101 games in charge, Gareth Southgate’s claim that he is “always learning” is spot on.

Southgate was pilloried for his touchline inertia in earlier games, most notably after he waited until the 95th minute to bring on Ivan Toney as England were trailing to Slovakia in the round of 16.

It had been a theme of his entire eight-year tenure that continued at the Euros and the more “outside noise” that developed the more he seemed to dig his heels in.

However, on Wednesday he introduced Luke Shaw for Kieran Trippier at halftime, and though that, if anything, seemed to take the steam out of England’s all-action first half approach, Southgate was not done.

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Harry Kane, who had scored the early equaliser from the penalty spot and looked the sharpest he has been all tournament, and Phil Foden, who hit the post and had a shot cleared off the line, were hooked.

It was no surprise that Palmer was one of the replacements as he has looked dangerous every time he has come on, but few saw Watkins getting the nod ahead of Toney.

It proved a masterstroke as Palmer delivered the pass and Watkins the unerring finish that won the game and sent England into a second successive Euros final.

In typical fashion, Southgate refused to gloat when asked about the changes, quietly saying “sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t”.

However, he did reveal some of the thinking that fans and pundits do not immediately see from the outside when he said one of the reasons for opting for Watkins was his ability to press defenders.

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With 10 minutes to go and a goal desperately needed, that might not be the first priority in most armchair manager’s minds but that is probably why Southgate has now taken his team to three major semi-finals in four tournaments.

ROAR OF APPROVAL

Although the subs finished the game off, England’s starting XI had built the base with a fantastic first 45 minutes after which they were desperately unlucky not to be in the lead.

Southgate said the space afforded by the Dutch enabled his team to flourish more than in earlier games against less ambitious teams, but it seemed to be a change of mindset more than tactics that had their fans roaring in approval after weeks of been lulled into bored silence.

Whether it was the manager releasing the tactical handbrake or the players taking the initiative may not be known for few years but the change was startling from the start.

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Foden and Jude Bellingham started playing with the same positivity that made them players of the year in England and Spain, while Bukayo Saka shook off the tentative approach of earlier games to attack defenders at pace.

Kane got involved in all the right areas while the indefatigable Declan Rice and ludicrously assured 19-year-old Kobbie Mainoo smothered the Dutch in midfield.

At the back England looked mostly as solid as they have all tournament, though there were a few hairy moments defending corners and free kicks.

Overall there was a swaggering confidence that people had expected from a side made pre-tournament favourites on the back of the obvious depth of talent available.

Critics will again point to their relatively easy path to the final but it is hard to argue against a team who, if the 2020 final shootout loss to Italy can be kindly called a draw, are unbeaten in 13 Euros matches since their shock defeat by Iceland in 2016.

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They face a considerable step up in Sunday’s final against a Spain team who have almost cruised through via six wins, but Wednesday’s England will travel to Berlin brimming with a rediscovered confidence. 

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Rakitic joins Hajduk Split after leaving Al-Shabab

Rakitic joins Hajduk Split after leaving Al-Shabab

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Rakitic joins Hajduk Split after leaving Al-Shabab

Former Croatia midfielder Ivan Rakitic is joining Hajduk Split after Saudi Pro League club Al-Shabab terminated his contract by mutual consent following a six-month spell.

The 36-year-old scored once in eight games after joining Al-Shabab in January 2024 as they finished eighth on 52 points.

“The club management agreed with the Croatian player Ivan Rakitic to terminate the contractual relationship between the two parties by mutual consent,” the Saudi club posted on the X social media platform.

Hajduk Split on Sunday announced the signing of the former Barcelona and Sevilla midfielder for one season with the option of an extra year in what will be his first campaign in Croatia.

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Rakitic, who was born in Switzerland, played 106 games for Croatia, scoring 15 goals, and helped the country reach the World Cup final in 2018. 

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Croatia’s Vida retires from international football

Croatia’s Vida retires from international football

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Croatia's Vida retires from international football

Croatia defender Domagoj Vida has retired from international soccer after 14 years in the national team, the Croatian Football Federation said on Sunday.

Vida, 35, made his international debut in May 2010 and has played 105 matches for Croatia. He was part of the Croatia side that reached the final of World Cup 2018 and finished third in World Cup 2022.

“It is an honour to wear the most beautiful jersey in the world once in your career,” Vida said in a statement.

“And when you do it 105 times, you play in seven major competitions … then you can just be infinitely grateful for such a privilege.”

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Former Bayer Leverkusen and Besiktas player Vida currently plays for Greek top-flight club AEK Athens. 

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Canada defender Collins to miss Paris 2024 soccer tournament through injury

Canada defender Collins to miss Paris 2024 soccer tournament through injury

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Canada defender Collins to miss Paris 2024 soccer tournament through injury

Canada defender Sydney Collins will miss the Paris 2024 women’s soccer tournament after fracturing her left leg during a training game in her first match back after suffering a similar injury to her right leg earlier this year, Team Canada said on Saturday.

Gabrielle Carle will replace Collins in Canada’s Olympic squad, while Desiree Scott will take Carle’s spot as an alternate for the Tokyo 2020 gold medallists, it said.

Collins sustained the injury on Thursday during a closed-door training match against Nigeria, her first since fracturing her right leg in February.

“Our hearts go out to Sydney during this difficult time. She has worked incredibly hard to return in time for Paris 2024, and while this is a setback, we know she will come back stronger,” said women’s national team head coach Bev Priestman.

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“She will be with us in spirit every step of the way.

“With the depth and resilience of our roster, it’s a next-player-up mentality, and both Gabby and Desiree’s experience will be invaluable to our team’s success.”

Canada will begin the defence of their Olympic title on July 25 against Group A opponents New Zealand. 

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