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Euro dreams were not meant to end like this

England and the Football Association had planned to end the tournament as champions and could have, had they played a different style of football against the Netherlands

REMEMBER the scene in The Matrix where Cypher betrays Morpheus to Agent Smith? He begins killing the members of the Nebuchadnezzar and after unplugging Apoc, moves on to Switch.

Switch is kneeling over the lifeless Apoc and realises she is next. She looks at Trinity and says: “Not like this, not like this,” before dying.

When Lieke Martens’s shot was deflected into England’s goal by Mille Bright, I muttered to myself: “Not like this.”

The Lionesses didn’t deserve to be so easily outclassed last Thursday. They didn’t deserve to have their European Championship hopes dashed. But they were and you could sense the Football Association were also left saying to themselves: “Not like this.”

It was meant to pan out differently. The FA moved Sunday’s Community Shield between Arsenal and Chelsea to 2pm in order to get the most viewers for the final.

They delayed the fixtures release of the Women’s Super League to Monday, 24 hours after the final, in order to capitalise on the success of the national team.

The plan was to have all eyes on the final, with England front and centre.

There is nothing wrong with that and it should be applauded. It wasn’t big-headed, arrogant or cocky to move things around.

It was a sign of how confident everyone was that England would go all the way.

It’s a shame that the confidence didn’t translate through to the players on the pitch or the coaches in the dugout.

From the first minute, Mark Sampson got things totally wrong. You could argue he got things wrong from the opening minutes of the final group match against Portugal and then again against France, but they won both those games and to pick apart those two games would be cruel.

But the signs were there.

While you need luck to win a major tournament, England relied heavily on that luck in their final games. There was no attempt to keep the ball, instead their insistence on lumping it long to Jodie Taylor proved to be their downfall.

Fran Kirby and Jordan Nobbs were wasted in that match. Their ability on the ball would have worried the Netherlands defence a lot more than Steph Houghton’s and Bright’s punts up the field.

It wasn’t even a case of trying to pin them deep and win the ball back high up the field, England’s plan was to get Taylor in behind every single time.

If I could work that out from my chair at home, Netherlands boss Sarina Wiegman would have sussed it out immediately, especially when it was all England were doing for 90 minutes.

When Vivanne Miedema opened the scoring, you would have thought Sampson would have switched things up. The Netherlands backline sat deeper and dared England to try to play their way through.

Instead, more balls were pumped up to Taylor and she continued feeding off scraps.

Houghton, one of the highest-paid players in the WSL, was reduced to the most basic of tasks and it was a waste of her talents.

Ellen White was reduced to a side act out on the left and Sampson should have replaced her. 

Nikita Paris was left on the bench, as was Isobel Christiansen, two players who could have changed the game.

Paris especially, her pace out wide, could have allowed Nobbs to move in behind Taylor and England would have posed a different threat to the hosts.

With Taylor, Kirby and Paris making runs in behind and Nobbs attempting to play through balls, England would have stood more of a chance of winning.

Reading articles afterwards about England having chances to win the game are false. They didn’t. One chance cleared off the line and Taylor’s shot, which she should have done better with, was never going to be enough to win that game as the Netherlands controlled it from start to finish.

The game was calling out for pace and trickery out wide and Chelsea’s Gemma Davison would have been the perfect player to get at the Netherlands.

One of my favourite players in the game, her directness is what England lacked throughout the tournament, which is a weird thing to say when they went into the semi-final having scored 10 goals and conceded one.

However, teams would have picked up what England were trying to do and showing them a different hand would have kept them guessing.

The Netherlands would have spent the build-up to the game devising a plan to stop Taylor getting in behind them. To counter that, England should have had a Plan B, even if it was something as basic as using wingers to get at their full backs.

That’s what Wiegman did. They constantly attacked Demi Stokes at left-back through Desiree van Lunteren and Shanice van de Sanden and it was no surprise when they scored their opening goal from a cross from that side.

The second summed up England’s change of fortune. Everyone could see what Fara Williams was trying to do. But that was the problem, everyone could see.

Danielle van de Donk was on her bike the moment Williams headed back to Siobhan Chamberlian and got to the ball before the England goalkeeper.

It didn’t help that Chamberlain hesitated a split-second to allow Van de Donk to nip in ahead of her, but the damage was already done.

It was a crushing blow for a team that believed they could go all the way. And it hit fans at home hard.

When the men’s team go out of a major tournament, it’s always expected. Even when it isn’t, Iceland at Euro 2016, you look back at the game and convince yourself that they had it coming.

But even the most pessimistic of fans, myself included, did not see the manner of this defeat coming.

Like Switch said: “Not like this, not like this.”


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