Thursday 6 June 2019 11:08 pm

Holland 3-1 England: Gareth Southgate's side freeze in the face of the orange press to surrender semi-final

The Estadio D Afonso Henriques was tonight etched into England’s football history alongside the Luzhniki Stadium as another nearly moment for the Gareth Southgate regime. 

Twice in the last year England have shown promise, brought excitement and progressed to a semi-final. Twice they have stumbled at the penultimate hurdle, with expectation ultimately giving way to disappointment.

The Nations League may not be as significant as the World Cup, Portugal may not feel as deflating as Russia and Holland may not hurt as much as Croatia – but the overall result is the same. 

England have undoubtedly made huge strides under Southgate’s sage stewardship, and yet their flaws remain glaring once the pressure intensifies on the bigger stage. 

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England have undoubtedly made huge strides under Southgate’s sage stewardship, and yet their flaws remain glaring once the pressure intensifies on the bigger stage.

Swap the names – Ivan Perisic for Matthijs De Ligt, Mario Manzukic for Quincy Promes – and the themes, albeit not the final score line, remain the same.

The debate will no doubt rage about the nature of England’s capitulation – whether they should continue to play out from the back and take risks in distribution – but really their deficiencies stem from their mentality on the big occasion.

John Stones and Harry Maguire are fine ball-playing centre-backs for their clubs. Kyle Walker is a speedy and consistent right-back for his. Ross Barkley usually uses the ball bravely and intelligently.

Netherlands' forward Quincy Promes celebrates his team's second goal during the UEFA Nations League semi-final football match between The Netherlands and England at the Afonso Henriques Stadium in Guimaraes on June 6, 2019. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MIGUEL RIOPA/AFP/Getty Images)
Quincy Promes rounded off the defeat with a late finish after Ross Barkley’s error

But faced with an imposing, suffocating orange high-court press in the semi-final of a European tournament they crumbled. With the pressure ramped up a notch, nerves set in and errors became more and more frequent.

Mistakes by Maguire allowed Holland two presentable opportunities inside the first 11 minutes, Steven Bergwijn spurning a half-chance and Memphis Depay a two-on-one situation.

Stones frequently lost De Ligt from corners. The 19-year-old Ajax centre-back headed wide in the dying embers of the first half, but didn’t miss the second, powering in at the near post to make it 1-1 in the 73rd minute after Marcus Rashford’s first-half penalty.

In stoppage time Maguire dallied on the ball, but Bergwijn’s cut-back had too much pace on it for Depay to test Jordan Pickford in goal.

However, as extra-time rolled they kept coming. Stones was too busy checking and re-checking passing angles to consider Depay’s presence and although Pickford parried the Dutchman’s shot, Promes was there to slide in with Walker to make it 2-1.

The collapse was complete when Barkley’s stray pass saw Depay and Promes combine to complete the embarrassment and seal a place in the final with hosts Portugal on Sunday.

Potential excuses abound, but thankfully England didn’t want to apply them. The game’s proximity to Saturday’s Champions League final certainly impacted the game, with none of the seven Liverpool and Tottenham players among Southgate’s starting XI, but the difference in class and temperament was clear even when Harry Kane and Jordan Henderson entered the pitch.

GUIMARAES, PORTUGAL - JUNE 06:  Ross Barkley of England looks dejected in defeat after the UEFA Nations League Semi-Final match between the Netherlands and England at Estadio D. Afonso Henriques on June 06, 2019 in Guimaraes, Portugal. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Barkley was at fault for the final Holland goal

While Declan Rice, Fabian Delph and Barkley looked to be operating at 100 per cent capacity, labouring around the Portuguese pitch, Holland’s Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong was a picture of control, directing traffic from the base of midfield.

The fact he had more touches (128) and made more passes (105), tackles (five) and ball recoveries (13) than any other player emphasised the composure England lacked.

“They had their pressing right on the night. We made a few mistakes and I thought we tried to play at times but it didn’t work,” was how Raheem Sterling summed it up. “I think we have to keep trying.”

England aren’t blessed with a player of De Jong’s assured class. But what they do have is a manager intent on revolutionising the national team’s entire approach.

Sterling is right. They should keep trying. The only way to alter a style of play and change an ingrained conservative mindset is to stick at it.