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Will England set up a final reckoning with Spain? Only if they play well

<span>Here’s your whizzy <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/england/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a> and <a class="link " href="https://sports.yahoo.com/soccer/teams/netherlands/" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Netherlands;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Netherlands</a> composite image.</span><span>Photograph: Uefa/Getty Images</span>

TO DORTMUND!

In Munich’s semi-final, Euro 2024 was turned on its head. Spain, playing beautifully, beat France, playing if not badly but worse than their opponents. Here was a kick against an orthodoxy that has guided Gareth Southgate’s dysfunctional England to the semis. From the point they stepped off the gas after 30 minutes against Serbia this was supposed to be the tourney where you didn’t have to play well to progress. Having mostly played like a pick-up band on heavy Mandrax, it feels fair to say this England has not captured the nation in quite the way Southgate’s team did in 2018, Euro Not-2020 and even at the Human Rights World Cup in 2022. Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and Ian Broudie’s expected royalties must be down. That song has often been conspicuous by its absence. Pubs and houses decked in the flag of St George? Not so much. Perhaps only that shootout against the Swiss was a shared national moment.

Blame it on the weatherman, to conjure B*Witched? The summer climate has not been conducive to Boxpark pint-chucking or beer-garden carousing. Flares up random orifices are likely to sputter in the rain. There’s been an election, too, though even Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liz Truss getting tinned didn’t cause wild celebrations. Those were expected outcomes. Dear Rishi needed to be as delusional as Scottish fans booking accommodation for the final in Berlin to think he could win.

Perhaps that’s the problem with Southgate’s England. Reaching semi-finals has become par, what with all the talent The Best League in the World ™ produces. The manager himself – a bit prickly these days – is the victim of his own success, in that he’s gone closer to winning than anyone since Sir Alf Ramsey was trying not to drop his aitches. Within that, there’s a danger of becoming Tim Henman, a nearly-man with a determined fist pump but lacking the tools to win the top prizes.

Already, any England fan winces at the idea of Kieran Trippier against Lamine Yamal, 17 on Saturday, who makes Luke Littler look like John Lowe. Perhaps Luke Shaw can play there instead but … ah … yes, the semi, Dortmund and the Dutch. This one’s for Graham Taylor. Big Ron Koeman, having tugged back David Platt in Rotterdam in 1993 then flipped one, flipped one, flipped one past David Seaman, is owed one. He leads a team almost as enigmatic as the English. “What sort of thing is happening here?,” to invoke Taylor. Have Virgil van Dijk’s legs gone or is he just too cool to tackle? Memphis Depay: the lad who played for United? Cody Gakpo: him from Liverpool? Wout Weghorst: still on Burnley’s books? That can’t be Daley Blind? What inside info can Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink supply?

Whatever the answers there, it probably requires England to actually play well to decide whether Berlin or the end of the Southgate era is what follows next.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY

We saw a touch of genius from a footballer who we all need to take care of” – Spain manager Luis de la Fuente speaks for all of us after witnessing 16-year-old Lamine Yamal score that goal against France.

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EURO 2024 DAILY LETTERS

To the story that has lifted Euro 24: Lamine Yamal’s so-called ‘wonder goal’ against France. I would simply point to Bukayo Saka, who has been smashing in similar goals for Arsenal and England (in their last match against Switzerland, for example) for the last few seasons. Lamal’s left-footed curler was wonderful and has diverted attention away from some of the dross that has stunk this tournament out, but lads, lads – it’s football!” – Frank Landamore.

While I suppose England fans will be discussing tactics and the like before the match – across the pond, all fans will be talking about whether to listen to Landon Donovan or just hitting the mute button for the entire match” – Dedric Helgert.

So Cody Gakpo thinks that having the quickest player in the Premier League gives the Dutch the advantage over England. He has watched England at this tournament right? It’s not like you need to be Usain Bolt to keep up with Harry Kane and Declan Rice” – Adrian Foster.

Send letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. Today’s prizeless letter o’ the day winner is … Adrian Foster. Terms and conditions for our competitions can be viewed here.