England into Euro 2024 semi-finals after dramatic shootout win over Switzerland

All those hours devoted to studying the psychology of penalty shootouts, of working out how to banish the demons, of removing the randomness – all of it came together to make the difference for Gareth Southgate, who lives to fight another day after yet another act of escapology from England.

There was a heroic contribution from Bukayo Saka, who scored a late equaliser after Breel Embolo’s opener for Switzerland, and a moment of catharsis for the winger when he blanked out his miss against Italy at Euro 2020 and nailed his penalty in the shootout. At that stage, with Switzerland behind after Jordan Pickford saved Manuel Akanki’s kick, it had to be England going through to the last four.

So it was when Trent Alexander-Arnold ended it with the fifth and final kick, ensuring that this strange, illogical run goes on, even after another uneven performance.

Southgate was out on the pitch before kick-off, a proud figure still carrying out his duties, still remembering to applaud those supporters who have spent the summer calling for him to go.

England were already one lifeline down after their escape against Slovakia and, for all the talk of Jude Bellingham-inspired turning points, there was certainly some unease at seeing Southgate, having spent the week in analysis mode with Steve Holland, unveil a rejig that still had Kieran Trippier patrolling the left flank.

The shifts were subtle rather than revolutionary, Phil Foden floating in an inside-right position, the 3-4‑2-1 designed to match Switzerland and compress the space. In terms of Trippier’s role, there had been whispers Southgate was worried about the threat posed by Dan Ndoye on the right, particularly as Ezri Konsa was in for the suspended Marc Guéhi at left centre-back. Seven minutes in, there was a warning from Ndoye, who surged past Trippier and delivered a cross that Kobbie Mainoo read well.

Periods of English control would be diluted by spells of nerviness. Konsa, earning his sixth cap, headed a dangerous cross away and blocked a shot from Embolo in the 25th minute. John Stones stuck out an important foot when Granit Xhaka threatened to burst on to a clever pass.

Bukayo Saka equalises for England against Switzerland with a pinpoint strike. Photograph: Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters

England’s system had a liberating effect on Mainoo, who was free to take the ball, drive forward and recycle possession. Declan Rice seemed more sure of himself, more imposing. Bellingham was more involved, one blistering run ending when Fabian Schär hauled him down and earned a booking.

Saka, who had a vital role at right wing-back, had the beating of Michel Aebischer. Mainoo made space with a delightful turn. On 44 minutes, with Aebischer beaten by Saka for the umpteenth time, Switzerland were relieved Xhaka was on hand to stop Mainoo from sweeping home from close range.

The question was whether England could produce a moment of quality in the final third. Their final ball lacked conviction and they made such a mess of one short corner that the ball ended up back with Jordan Pickford. Moments later, with Trippier out of position, Harry Kane was covering at left wing-back.

The half would end without either goalkeeper having to make a save, a sign Southgate’s tactics were neutralising not only the Swiss but also Bellingham, Foden and Kane, who had touched the ball nine times.

There was brief urgency from England at the start of the second half. It would not last. Having seemed inhibited, Switzerland began to press harder and they threatened in the 52nd minute, Embolo turning Konsa and shooting straight at Pickford.

Switzerland’s Manuel Akanji has his penalty saved by England’s Jordan Pickford during the penalty shootout. Photograph: Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters

England responded with another daring run from Mainoo. They still needed more bite, their passing remained cautious and Kane was being dominated by Manuel Akanji. Nothing summed up their battle more than when England’s captain, attempting to spin away from his marker, was gently levered off the ball.

Switzerland were growing in confidence, Embolo almost meeting a cross at the far post, Ndoye sparking a counterattack. England were looking blunt. On one occasion, Kyle Walker stood on the right, searched for options and passed to Saka, who chipped a nothing ball straight to Xhaka.

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Much of the noise was coming from the Swiss fans, their end bouncing as their team settled into an easy groove. Xhaka, previously muted, was starting to dictate the tempo. Switzerland made changes after the hour, Silvan Widmer and Steven Zuber on for Ruben Vargas and Fabian Rieder, and Aebischer volleyed over. England were struggling to get out of their half.

There was still no response from Southgate to Murat Yakin’s decisiveness. Switzerland’s opener duly arrived. There was a combination between Widmer and Zuber before Ndoye was allowed by Konsa to fizz in a low ball. A touch off Stones took it on and Walker lost Embolo, who beat Pickford from close range.

Southgate reacted, Cole Palmer, Eberechi Eze and – at long last – Luke Shaw coming on for Mainoo, Trippier and Konsa. All or nothing, Gareth. This was the cavalier England and, not long after the changes, Saka cut inside, bending a left-foot shot through the bodies and beyond the unsighted Yann Sommer.

England had equalised with their first shot on target again. They had the weird team out again, Eze and Saka playing as wing-backs. Embolo and Ndoye spurned chances.

Rice stretched Sommer after the restart. As if to symbolise Kane’s toils, one collision with Akanji would end with the striker tumbling past Southgate and into England’s dugout, which is where he would stay. Enough was enough: Ivan Toney was on in his place.

On came Alexander-Arnold and Xherdan Shaqiri, who hit the woodwork straight from a corner. Another substitute, Zeki Amdouni, stung Pickford’s palms. England were hanging on by the time penalties arrived.

Palmer scored the first. Akanji, spooked by Pickford’s delaying, had his weak effort saved. Bellingham was nerveless for 2-0 but Schär responded. Saka, mercifully, scored coolly. Shaqiri converted, only for Toney to beat Sommer with extreme nonchalance.

Amdouni kept Switzerland alive. Alexander-Arnold stepped up to win it. His kick was emphatic. The outpouring of emotion was huge. Sweet Caroline blared out. Southgate hugged his backroom staff and tried to make sense of it all.

The Guardian