The England we know so well normally fall apart under pressure, but at Euro 2024 this side have proved to be a different beast.

This England team is different.

Over recent decades, we’ve come to expect turgid performances, underwhelming results, failure in big moments and, ultimately, disappointment.

Much of England’s early Euro 2024 suggested that, after major progress under Gareth Southgate over the last three tournaments, we might be in for more of the national team at their worst once again. They scored just two goals in three games against Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia in the group stage and barely deserved to win any of those games. ‘Turgid’ was very much the word to describe England at that stage in the competition.

They were then seconds from elimination before scraping through against Slovakia in the last 16, and needed penalties to beat Switzerland in the quarter-finals.

But after Wednesday’s last-gasp win over the Netherlands in the semis, England have now made it to a second successive European Championship final (making it two from four attempts at major tournaments under Southgate). They had made it to the showpiece event of just one of their previous 23 tournaments and, this time, they did it playing their best football of Euro 2024. The feeling around the team has shifted.

Now, rather than quite so much doom and gloom about the team’s attacking deficiencies, there is belief in this group of players.

That is because they are showing a resilience unlike any England team most of us have ever known.

They haven’t made it easy for themselves. They became the first team in European Championship history to make the final after going behind in both the quarter-final and semi-final. They also trailed for a long time against Slovakia in the round of 16.

Southgate has done a great deal to improve the mentality of his players. There is no panic when they go behind, but instead real, honest belief they can find a way back into the game. Their penalty triumph over Switzerland was the most comprehensive England have ever had in a shootout; it was the first time in 10 shootouts at major tournaments that England had scored five out of five attempts. Some fans even insisted afterwards that they had full confidence in the players going into the shootout. Doesn’t sound much like England, does it?

While the attack has underperformed given how much talent there is available to Southgate, his side have been incredibly solid at the back.

They have allowed their opponents just 5.3 expected goals in their six matches so far. Their rate of 0.8 xG against per 90 minutes played is the lowest rate of all teams at the tournament. That means they are restricting their opponents to chances from which the average opponent would struggle to score one goal in 90 minutes.

england xg against Euro 2024

Not only are they giving up few shots, but they are also giving up low-quality chances, too. Each shot they have faced at Euro 2024 has had an average quality of 0.09 xG – or in other words, would have a 9% chance of being scored – with only three teams giving up lower-quality shots on average. None of those teams made the semi-finals (Belgium – 0.06 xG, Ukraine and Switzerland – both 0.08 xG).

After going behind, England are proving very good at getting a foothold in the game while never going a second goal behind, and their game management is proving a real strength. Between the 30th and 64th minutes on Wednesday, with the game on a knife’s edge at 1-1, the Netherlands did not have a single shot, while late in the second half England weathered a storm as the Dutch had a series of threatening set-pieces and the game was being played exclusively in England’s half.

Netherlands 1-2 England xg race

Previous England sides would surely have caved under that kind of pressure. They certainly wouldn’t have been able to turn the tide, as England did with around four minutes of normal time remaining.

They were fortunate, with Dutch pressure building, to be awarded a goal-kick after a cross from a free-kick clearly took a deflection off John Stones and should have resulted in a corner. Virgil van Dijk lost his cool with the referee, was booked, and England had a chance to get the ball up the other end of the pitch. Thirty seconds after Van Dijk’s booking, Cole Palmer was wasting a huge chance to put England in front, and just two minutes after that, he was making amends by feeding Ollie Watkins to score a famous winner.

England, having gone behind again, were into another European Championship final.

There are some obvious caveats to all of this, not least that they made it all the way to the semi-final without facing a single team in the current top 18 of the FIFA world rankings; the Netherlands (seventh) are by a distance the best team they’ve played at this Euros.

This current Spain, meanwhile, have seen off three teams in the world’s top 10 (France, Croatia, Italy) at Euro 2024, as well as 16th-placed Germany.

They pose by far the biggest challenge England have faced. They will keep possession in England territory better than anyone else and they will give England’s defenders more to think about. Spain are the tournament’s top scorers (13 goals) and their 11.1 xG is far higher than any other team, and almost double England’s 5.6 xG).

But England haven’t been outplaying their opponents at the Euros – much to many a fan’s disapproval – instead relying on a solid defence and moments of inspiration. From Jude Bellingham’s 95th-minute overhead kick against Slovakia to Bukayo Saka’s equaliser against Switzerland, and from Jordan Pickford’s penalty save to Watkins’ potentially career-defining winner against the Dutch, this tournament has been about standout moments for England rather than overall dominance.

When you combine England’s resilience with the fact they have so many players who can produce those huge moments, you get a team which isn’t all that exciting but will have chances to win games. There’s more than a hint of Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid about them.

If England are to win Euro 2024, this new-found resilience will be the bedrock of their success.

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