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'England have given supporters some of best nights in 50 years'

Gareth Southgate says England have "given supporters some of the best nights in 50 years" after booking their place in a successive European Championship final.

A dramatic 90th-minute winner from substitute Ollie Watkins sealed a 2-1 win over the Netherlands as England came from behind to set up a final with Spain.

Southgate led England to their first final in 55 years when they lost to Italy in Euro 2020, but they hope to go one better this time around.

"I took the job to try to improve English football and we're now in a second final. The last one was the first in over 50 years. We're now in a first one oversees," said Southgate.

"We're giving people amazing nights. We've given our supporters some of the best nights in the last 50 years. I'm hugely proud of that.

"I'm delighted if everyone at home is feeling the way we are and the way those in the stadium were. But we're not finished.

"We've got the greatest possible test to prepare for. We came here to try to win the tournament and that's still our aim." 

It has not been a smooth ride for England, who are the first side in Euros history to reach the final despite trailing in both their quarter-final and semi-final games.

Jude Bellingham's bicycle kick in the 95th minute saw them edge past Slovakia in the last 16, and they needed a penalty shootout to beat Switzerland.

Criticism has come their way with fans displaying their frustration, throwing plastic cups aimed at Southgate after their 0-0 draw with Slovenia in the group stages.

"We all want to be loved, right? When you're doing something for your country, you're a proud Englishman - you don't feel that back and all you read is criticism, it's hard," said Southgate.

"To be able to celebrate a second final is very special. If I had not been on the grass, I would have been watching and celebrating like [the fans] were.

"I'm the one that has to pick a team so to be able to give them a night like tonight was very special.

"We have come here to win and play the team who have been the best in the tournament [in the final]. But we're still here and fighting."

'Time to put us in history' 

Having suffered defeat against Italy at Wembley three years ago, England are determined not to come away empty handed this time.

Real Madrid midfielder Bellingham told BBC Radio 5 Live that the team have "lived to fight another day" as they attempt to become the first English men's side since 1966 to win a major trophy.

"I am really proud of the boys. The reaction, attitude and mentality... Quality is one thing, but those characteristics you cannot learn in training - you get it from experience and each other," he added.

"Now it is one more game. We are tired, it has been a long season, but is one last push for our country and for history."

Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo, 19, has impressed in the knockout stages and became England's youngest player to appear in the semi-finals of a major tournament.

"It is an indescribable feeling, we are all buzzing! It has been such a journey and we have built on old performances," Mainoo told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"The only way is up - time to put us in history."

'An incredible chance of winning it' 

It was a rollercoaster evening in Dortmund as the Netherlands took the lead early on through Xavi Simons' thunderous strike.

England responded when Harry Kane put away a contentious penalty and they dominated large periods before Watkins provided the winning moment late on.

"I feel drained and like I have been out there myself. It is a great night," former England striker Alan Shearer said.

"At times you have to suffer in international football. When it got tough, they had to come up with different answers and they had to find a way again.

"This team has done that without playing spectacular football in four or five of the games. Now they have an incredible chance of winning it."

Former England defender Gary Neville said this squad does "whatever it takes" to win games and are improving standards.

So is there a feeling that England could upset tournament favourites Spain in the final?

"It feels like it is going to be the time. At every moment they have been doubted and it is a great story up until this point, why shouldn't it go on?" said former England defender Matthew Upson.

"One of the big things about this group is that they have a bit of cockiness and arrogance about them - but in a good way.

"We have players exceeding huge levels of performances in top teams across the world. We are confident and it shows with the penalties and in moments like this."

Article source: BBC

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