It was an ignominious way for England to lose and, ultimately, their collapse in extra time was probably best summed up by the image of Ross Barkley with his face down in the turf, not wanting to look up and survey the damage after his mistake for the third Dutch goal.
Barkley was not the only player wandering round the pitch with the look of a zombie. For John Stones, this was a personal ordeal in keeping with a bittersweet season on the fringes of Manchester city’s success. The records will show it was Kyle Walker’s own-goal that gave the Netherlands their second goal. In reality, it was a fairly dreadful error from Stones that put England in danger, dilly-dalling on the ball with Memphis Depay in close proximity.
Depay took the ball off Stones and took aim at Jordan Pickford’s goal. It was a fine save from England’s goalkeeper but the ball was loose and, even with Walker’s renowned pace, the substitute Quincy Promes slid in first to connect with the rebound.
The ball went in off the luckless Walker and, unfortunately for Stones, the centre-half was also partly at fault again when Promes added the third goal with 114 minutes on the clock. It was Stones’s pass that put Barkley under pressure, losing the ball and allowing Depay to set up Promes.
It was difficult to know which was the more calamitous goal and that made it a tremendous disappointment for Gareth Southgate and his players after they had taken the lead via Marcus Rashford’s first-half penalty and, at 1-1, celebrated what they thought was a potential winner from the substitute Jesse Lingard in the 84th minute, only for it to be ruled out by a marginal VAR offside decision.
As has been the case for most of Southgate’s reign, it was a system built on quick, penetrative attackers, overlapping full-backs and an ability to switch seamlessly between different formations rather than relying rigidly on one system. One move, in particular, felt symbolic of the new era: Jadon Sancho dancing through the middle and having the impudence to slip the ball through Matthijs de Ligt’s legs before a beautifully weighted reverse pass to slip Rashford behind the defence. Denzel Dumfries saved the Netherlands with a brilliant tackle but it was still a fine snapshot of how Southgate wants England to attack, with vibrancy, wit and the courage to try new things.
England also had the backing of three-quarters of the stadium and enough support to make it resemble a home game. There were only two corners of Vitória’s ground populated by the garish shirts of Oranje, which was probably an indication about how the Dutch remain aloof to this competition. Otherwise it was an English invasion and when they are not getting some strange kick out of their unpleasantness – exhibit A: whistling and singing through the Dutch national anthem – the people who follow Southgate’s team to these unthreatening destinations are capable of making a heck of a din.
The volume was certainly turned up just after the half-hour mark when Marten de Roon turned the ball back to De Ligt in the Dutch penalty area. De Ligt’s status as one of the outstanding young players in European football is expected to lead to a transfer to Barcelona this summer. On this occasion he was badly at fault, taking his eye off the ball and allowing it to run under his foot.
Rashford was quick to anticipate the danger and De Ligt, in his desperation to save himself, was a split second behind as he lunged in with the attempted tackle. He missed the ball, took out the player and Rashford, an increasingly confident penalty-taker, composed himself to aim the kick beyond Jasper Cillessen.
Unfortunately for Rashford, he was hurt in the challenge from Dumfries that denied him a second goal. It was no surprise that he did not come back out for the second half, meaning the introduction of Harry Kane sooner than Southgate would have liked.
Southgate did not start with any of his players from Liverpool and Tottenham. That meant Raheem Sterling taking over as captain – for the first half anyway – from Kane on the evening the Manchester City player won his 50th cap.
Fabian Delph, who has not started a Premier League game for City since Boxing Day, was flanked by Declan Rice and Barkley in midfield, with Sterling and Sancho in the attacking wide positions and Rashford operating through the middle. Walker and Ben Chilwell both had the licence to push forward from their full-back positions and, in those moments, Rice tended to drop in between Stones and Harry Maguire, the two centre-halves.
There were still imperfections, such as the moment early in the second half when Walker tried to run the ball out of defence, lost possession to Depay and was grateful Pickford was alert to keep out the shot.
Chilwell was fortunate a few minutes earlier not to give away a penalty for a mistimed challenge on Steven Bergwijn and, late in the first half, De Ligt had a headed opportunity to change the complexion of his evening.
Sancho should probably have done better with an unchallenged header from Delph’s cross but, as the game reached the hour mark, Ronald Koeman’s team were having a lot of the ball in encouraging positions. It paid off when De Ligt equalised with a powerful header.