England reaches European Championship final by beating Netherlands 2-1 on Watkins late goal

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DORTMUND, Germany (AP) — England reached a second straight European Championship final by beating the Netherlands 2-1 thanks to substitute Ollie Watkins’ stoppage-time winner on Wednesday.

Watkins, who came on for captain Harry Kane in a bold call by coach Gareth Southgate, turned and smashed a fierce shot into the bottom corner in the first minute of added-on time.

England will play Lamine Yamal and Spain in Sunday’s final in Berlin. It will be the nation’s first title match on foreign soil, having won the World Cup in 1966 and lost to Italy in the Euro 2020 final — both times at Wembley Stadium.

In an open first half, Harry Kane’s 18th-minute penalty canceled out Xavi Simons’ brilliantly struck opener for the Dutch in the seventh minute.

Watkins had only made one previous appearance at Euro 2024 — as a substitute in the group game against Denmark — so it was a surprise when he was introduced by Southgate in England’s biggest match so far.

The gamble paid off.

“Unbelievable — I’ve been waiting for that moment for weeks,” said Watkins, the Aston Villa striker who was the fourth top scorer in the Premier League last season. “It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to where I am today. I got the opportunity and took it with both hands.”

That the goal was set up by Cole Palmer, another substitute, will have pleased Southgate, too.

“I said to (Palmer), ‘We’re going to come on and you’re going to set me up,'” Watkins said. “I knew, as soon as he got the ball, he was going to play me in. When it went in the bottom corner, it was the best feeling ever.”

The sea of orange in the giant South Stand at Westfalenstadion fell silent. It housed the most vocal of the Dutch supporters who dominated the city center before marching in their thousands to the stadium ahead of the game. Police reported three separate clashes between fans from both countries in the city.

It gave the occasion the feeling of a home match for the Dutch and England, which came from behind to advance in the last 16 and quarterfinals, was up against it even more after the 21-year-old Simons became the second youngest scorer for the Netherlands at a Euros.

The Paris Saint-Germain midfielder dispossessed Declan Rice about 40 meters (yards) out, drove forward and unleashed a shot into the far corner from outside the area.

Compared to the 16-year-old Yamal, Spain’s new superstar, Simons is a soccer veteran but this was another case of a young player shining on the big stage at the Euros.

Kane has had plenty of big moments at major tournaments and he had another when he slotted home a penalty after Denzel Dumfries’ outstretched leg made contact with Kane’s foot as the England striker attempted a shot.

Kane became the sixth player to be on three goals for the tournament.

An open first half, which saw Dumfries and England’s Phil Foden hit the goal frame, made way for a tight and tense second half where chances were limited.

Bukayo Saka had a goal ruled out for a narrow offside before Kane departed for Watkins in what might rank as Southgate’s best call in his eight-year England tenure.

“It’s going to be unbelievably tough – a really difficult game,” Kane said of the final against Spain, which is widely regarded as having played the best soccer so far in the tournament. “One more game to make history.”

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AP Euro 2024: https://apnews.com/hub/euro-2024

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