Switzerland 0-0 England (5-6 PENS); Pickford penalty heroics secure the Three Lions the effectively meaningless Nations League third place

Switzerland 0-0 England (5-6 PENS); Pickford penalty heroics secure the Three Lions the effectively meaningless Nations League third place

It took some penalty shootout heroics from England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, scoring one spot kick before then saving another, to earn the Three Lions victory in the UEFA Nations League third-place playoff.

In truth, it was an accomplishment – and a match in general – that few cared about, myself included in that crowd.

It’s something I’ve never understood the desire for in international football – the meaningless third-place playoff. Teams are already spent, they’ve already endured the ignominy of being knocked out of the respective tournament, any yet are somehow expected to rally back around to care for a match that means so incredibly little to anyone.

I understand the format’s existence in just one footballing competition – the Olympic Games. That is because the third-place playoff takes the form of a bronze medal match. This is important for countries as the medals table is ultimately how nations are separated and ranked on performance, and therefore competing over the bronze can matter to teams (even though a number of sports with knockout tournaments actually just share the bronze between those knocked out in the semi-finals, and football so easily also could too).

Yet, despite this, FIFA and UEFA both seem to still have a burning love for the third-place match, leading to the drab spectacle that was on display in Portugal early on Sunday afternoon.

That feeling of pointless football was for all to see in Guimaraes, as the England and Switzerland camps lined up ahead of a match few even cared was going on. Just as easily as staging it, both sides could have instead shrugged off their shortcomings in the semi-finals and been on flights back home to enjoy the start of a summer break.

Instead, by decree of the UEFA higher-ups, they were forced to play out a slow, meaningless pre-amble to the actual final – played with all the disinterest and fatigue that you’d have anticipated in a third-place playoff that didn’t need to exist.

The match itself, a real low-key affair, saw England boss the chances, with Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling both hitting the woodwork. Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer pulled off a superb save to deny Dele Alli.

Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson thought he’d won the game for England late into the second half when he turned the ball home, only to see his goal chalked off by VAR – with the video assistant referee ruling him to have fouled Manuel Akanji in the build up of the goal.

Ending goalless at the full time whistle, and failing to find any form of breakthrough in extra time, the game dragged its way through to penalties, where Pickford stepped up to perform – much like he did in last summer’s World Cup Round of 16 match against Colombia.

Harry Maguire, Ross Barkley, Jadon Sancho and Sterling all hit the mark for England, before Pickford himself stepped up to score England’s fifth penalty (the fact alone that the goalkeeper was taking traditionally significant, and potentially deciding, penalty number five probably tells all it needs to about the third-place playoff).

At that stage, the scores remained level heading into sudden death. Switzerland had been on target with all five of their strikes so far, seeing Steven Zuber, Granit Xhaka, Akanji, Kevin Mbabu and Fabian Schar all convert from the penalty spot.

Eric Dier then converted England’s sixth spot kick to put the Three Lions in the driving seat.

To respond, up stepped Swiss forward Josip Drmic but the Borussia Monchengladbach man saw his effort saved by Pickford, giving victory and third place in the Nations League to Gareth Southgate’s England.

It remains an utterly meaningless game, and one that everyone could have likely done without playing, but I suppose at least for the annuls of history Southgate’s tenure as England manager has another minor success on its record (even if the final, overall tournament win still eludes him so far).

Australia 1-2 Italy; Stoppage time winner earns Italy surprise victory

Australia 1-2 Italy; Stoppage time winner earns Italy surprise victory

Italy scored a last-gasp winner to complete a fight back from a goal behind against Australia, coming out 2-1 winners in their opening 2019 Women’s World Cup match in Valenciennes.

In one of the tournament’s finest contests so far, Australia took the lead through a penalty – Sam Kerr missed the initial spot kick, but was on hand to sweep home the rebound.

However, Italy showed their resilience and fought back in the second half, with Juventus star Barbara Bonansea scoring both goals. Either side of Bonansea’s equaliser, Italy also saw two more goals disallowed – correctly – for offside by VAR.

Italy went into the match having not played a game at a Women’s World Cup finals since their group stage elimination back in 1999 in the United States.

Now ranked 15th in the women’s world rankings, they went into the match against an Australia side that sat nine places above them and who were hotly-tipped to be a powerful force in this year’s competition. Many saw them as being within a good chance of progressing to the final in Lyon. Italy were seen as a difficult hurdle, but one the Australians should have been able to overcome with relative ease.

Unsurprisingly, then, there were joyous scenes among the Italian camp at the full time whistle in Valenciennes’ Stade du Hainaut in northeastern France.

Italy thought they’d initially opened the scoring when Bonansea was threaded through courtesy of a beautifully-weighted ball, and the Juventus star held off the challenge of two defenders. Forcing her way into the box, she managed to squeeze the ball into the back of the net.

However, as has been a regular theme at these Women’s World Cup finals, VAR had the final say and ruled the goal out. Bonansea, on the replays, had been ever so marginally offside – and extremely harsh call, personally, but the system at least showed its reasoning for the decision.

While the scores remained level, the goal did imbue the Italians with confidence, which they needed not long after when Australia were awarded a golden opportunity to wrestle control of the game back.

Initially it looked like they had achieved just that, when Kerr was brought down in the box by Italy captain Sara Gama.

Kerr, and all-time record goalscorer in the top professional leagues in both her native Australia and the United States, stepped up to take it, and despite the initial penalty being saved by Laura Giuliani, she was able to fire home the rebound.

It was her first goal at the Women’s World Cup finals, in her ninth appearance across three tournaments. A huge moment, not just for Australia in the match, but personally, Kerr celebrated with something quite familiar to Australian football fans; boxing the corner flag much like Australian men’s team legend Tim Cahill.

Italy weren’t to be denied, however.

As the second half kicked off, Italy pressed the Australian repeatedly and finally got their just rewards.

A mistake at the back from Australia centre back Clare Polkinghorne gifted possession to Italy, and Bonansea took full advantage to pounce. Italy’s star performer in the match weaved her way into the penalty area before rounding the remaining Australia defender Alanna Kennedy and slotting home a cool finish.

It gave Italy the belief they needed, and soon they were the side in the ascendancy.

They thought they’d won the game too late on, when Daniela Sabatino was played in and managed to squeeze her effort past Lydia Williams in the Australia goal. The effort rebounded back off the upright, but Sabatino was quickest to react and slot home into the open net despite the tight angle.

However, in yet another cruel twist of fate against the Europeans, the offside flag once again ruled out the goal. VAR confirmed the decision, but replays showed Sabatino much more clearly offside than the earlier disallowed one.

Italy would have had all right to feel hard done by had the game finished 1-1, and it looked certain to be going that way right until the dying seconds.

In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Italy won a corner and fired it in, only to spark wild, jubilant celebrations when Bonansea, naturally, was on hand to head down and into the back of the net.

The underdogs in the match had snatched an incredible late point, and provided the first real shock of this Women’s World Cup finals in a highly entertaining game.

Heading into their next games, Italy will be thrilled to have already secured points on the board and be relatively confident of potentially securing a way out of the group stage.

For Australia, however, this result will have been a real knock for them. Favourites of many to go far in this tournament, it was not the result they needed, especially with a tough game against Brazil still to go in the group stage.

In the end, they’ll need to rally around and move forward, but losing the game will have hurt. Losing the game in the last few seconds, especially so, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can pick themselves back up and continue in the form they were expected to have, or if they may be one of the first major casualties at these finals.

Germany 1-0 China; Hard-fought opening win for Germany but defensive frailties exposed by the Steel Roses

Germany 1-0 China; Hard-fought opening win for Germany but defensive frailties exposed by the Steel Roses

Germany claimed an opening victory in their Group B game against China in the 2019 Women’s World Cup through a wonderful Giulia Gwinn strike, but it wasn’t plain sailing for the Europeans in Rennes.

From the first kick of the game, Germany looked to assert their dominance over the Chinese team, but were faced with an unexpectedly feisty and physical opposition.

The Steel Roses were not afraid to go flying into challenges, much to the frustrations of a number of German players – particularly Alexandra Popp, who found herself repeatedly targeted.

Germany struggled to cope and settle against that battling Chinese approach, and despite their control over the ball, it was those donned in red that fashioned the first real chance of the game.

An awful mistake by German defender Sara Doorsoun saw her play a loose ball across the field at the back, which was easily picked off by China and gifted the opponents a dangerous attack. Luckily for Doorsoun, Gu Yasha delayed her strike too long, before playing in Yang Li and the Wolfsburg defender was able to get back and recover brilliantly with a crucial block.

It was a wake up call for the Germans, though.

Carolin Simon almost gave Germany the lead shortly after when a wicked cross she fired in almost found its way directly in, smacking against the crossbar of Peng Shimeng’s goal.

The physical contest continued, with Popp taking another firm blow before China themselves lost a player through injury. Lou Jiahui was unable to run off a foot injury – and in between being quite comically (and thankfully for the officials given it let Germany attack instead, uncontroversially) body checked by the referee – was forced off the field in an early substitution.

Doorsoun again late in the half was guilty of playing a careless ball across the back four of Germany and seeing it picked off, and this time Yang Li was released by a sublime ball, only to see her curling effort cannon against the upright.

The second half went much the same way the first had ended, with Germany still comfortably in the ascendancy, but yet still lacking that crucial goal. China continued to press and physically bully the German players – a clear tactical decision – and committed foul after foul, collecting a slew of yellow cards in the process.

Popp and her teammates continued to grow increasingly frustrated, with tempers even spilling over on one occasion – a much more rare sight in the women’s game, compared with the men’s.

Finally, however, after winning a careless corner kick from China courtesy of a poor defensive touch, Germany made the breakthrough they needed.

China once again defended the initial ball well, heading clear to the edge of the box, but Gwinn was on hand to collect and smash home a superb strike through the Chinese legs and beyond the diving glove of Peng.

Gwinn had been one of Germany best and most creative players throughout the match, and the confidence and joy was clear on her face as the ball struck the back of the net. Collectively, the German fans and players could breathe a small sigh of relief.

China weren’t done yet, determined to continue to spoil the party and get something for their efforts. With eight minutes to go on the clock, they almost did too after earning a rare set piece from the Germans.

Swung into the box, their European opponents couldn’t successfully deal with the ball and China looked to force an opening but, when it was finally swept at goal by Zhang Rui, the ball could only sail over the bar.

The full time whistle saw the result confirmed and Germany happily secure their first three points of this Women’s World Cup group stage, but it wasn’t an easy game for the European side.

China fought them to the end, and perhaps worryingly for coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, the Steel Roses exposed some real defensive frailties among her side. Much of the Chinese side’s most dangerous play came not from their own creative moves but rather poor mistakes at the back from the Germans.

Added to that, the German players appeared to struggle somewhat to settle in the game against the physicality and roughness imposed by the China players.

It made for an interesting spectacle and one that Germany will have plenty to take away from and look to improve upon on the training pitch ahead of their next game.

However, ultimately, they still walk away from Rennes with the crucial three points and their tournament campaign well under way.

For China, meanwhile, it was a tough, battling display they put on but they leave empty-handed, making their next meeting – against Women’s World Cup newcomers South Africa – that much more important.

France 4-0 South Korea; Les Bleues look confident as Le Sommer, Renard & Henry star in stunning opening win

France 4-0 South Korea; Les Bleues look confident as Le Sommer, Renard & Henry star in stunning opening win

The 2019 Women’s World Cup kicked off in the Parc des Princes in Paris with a confident 4-0 win for hosts France against South Korea, with centre back Wendie Renard netting twice.

Forward Eugenie Le Sommer had opened the scoring for France, before Les Bleues’ other central defender Griedge Mbock Bathy saw a goal disallowed following a VAR check.

Renard made full use of her significant height advantage in the box to score twice before half time from set pieces, before late in the second half French captain Amandine Henry netted a superb fourth.

South Korea looked nervous from the first moments of the game, especially in defence, and France’s superior movement took advantage of that to full effect.

Continually Marion Torrent and Delphine Cascarino combined out wide to burst past the South Korean defence, whipping dangerous balls into the box. Similarly, Le Sommer and full back Amel Majri did the same on the opposite wing.

The opening goal of the 2019 Women’s World Cup came from exactly that style of move. Pace out wide caused South Korea problems and Le Sommer pounced on the defensive disorganisation to drive home the crucial first goal on home turf.

Nerves continued to press South Korea, seen clearly when they spurned their chance to create some pressure on the French box from a corner straight out of play into the side netting of Sarah Bouhaddi’s goal.

France thought they had a second from a beautifully worked set piece, in comparison, not long after. A short take saw it played out wide of the box and swung from a deeper angle, before Renard headed it back across the South Korea box towards defensive partner Mbock Bathy.

The Olympique Lyonnais defender, who was sporting quite a significant knee brace, struck home an effort from an awkward height acrobatically, only to then find it ruled out by a lengthy VAR check.

Much to the frustrations of the partisan French crowd, the VAR check took several minutes. However, when a final decision was made, and the visual graphic shown, Mbock Bathy did indeed have a foot beyond the last defender and the call to disallow the goal was correct.

It didn’t matter for too long though for the host nation, as not long after France had another set piece and this time simply opted to stick the ball onto the head of Renard.

The towering centre back, one of the tournaments tallest players at 6ft 1″ and standing nearly half a foot above her South Korean opponents, found little challenge in guiding the ball past opposition goalkeeper Kim Min-Jeong.

That height proved potent once again from another set piece late in first half stoppage time, as Renard powered a strong header into the back of the South Korean net once again. The goal came from France’s 10th corner of the first half, and Renard had been a danger at almost every one where a good delivery had been made.

South Korea looked to create at least some chances in the second half and the introduction of young starlet Kang Chae-Rim, a 21-year-old making just her second senior international appearance, sparked a few rare chances for the team in white.

Kang showed determination in making space and a rare run towards the French box, putting in a good cross but there was nobody there to meet it. Shortly after the youngster, with number 23 emblazoned across the back of her shirt, was involved again, firing over after collecting the ball near the edge of the French box.

Renard made a mistake late on to allow South Korea through in a one-on-one chance with Bouhaddi but Lee Min-A saw the pressure get to her and spurned the chance wide poorly.

Even despite the occasional South Korean chance in the second half, France never looked in danger of relinquishing any ounce of control on the match and late on in the match they rounded off their dominant opening match display.

Captain fantastic Henry picked up the ball midway inside the South Korean half and drove towards the box, cutting inside and stroking home a beautiful, curling effort into the far corner of the net.

The smiles and celebrations, dancing with her teammates, showed the joy and emotion that was being felt all around the stadium in Paris as Les Bleues showed why they have gone into their home tournament as joint favourites with the USA.

A late flurry of desire came from the South Korean players, but ultimately – much like most of the match – they simply couldn’t find enough creativity to make significant distance up the pitch, having started entrenched so deep from the constant French pressure.

It was a brilliant opening display from the host side, who demonstrated to frightening degree the talent and attacking desire that coach Corinne Diacre has at her disposal and lay down a real marker to the rest of the top-ranked sides in the tournament.

This is France’s tournament. They have spoken many a time about wanting to follow in the men’s side’s footsteps and lift the World Cup come tournament’s end.

Well, against an albeit shaky South Korean side, they showed they certainly have the quality to do so.

They were always one to watch going into the tournament, but big sides sometimes falter under pressure. Sometimes the expectations can weigh too heavy on the minds of players and cost teams expected to do well. Some sides simply cannot match what is expected of them before the tournament begins.

Diacre’s France do not seem to be one of those sides.

With the increased introduction of VAR, is it time that the offside rule got an overhaul?

With the increased introduction of VAR, is it time that the offside rule got an overhaul?

Football’s Video Assistant Referee (VAR) system allows for crucial decisions within the live game of football to be made by reviewing replays and seeing incidents from angles not able to seen in the moment by the referee.

Naturally, this can put an end to clear and obvious errors – the reason the system was introduced in the first place – and in a game as financially lucrative as football, eradicating these errors has always been high on the agenda.

However, it has also thrown up one other unintended issue; or perhaps, more aptly, just an unusual situation.

Due to the system utilising replays, and allowing referees in charge of the VAR system – and the referee at pitchside if he wishes – it means that plays can be slowed down and paused.

This for one particular offence – the offside – the system can almost be too accurate. Now, we are finding goals can be disallowed by attackers having strayed fractions of millimetres ahead of the defence in an attack.

Yes, technically, that attacker is offside in that situation. By the laws of the game, should any part of an attacker’s body with which the ball can be legally played be offside, then the player is offside.

However, in many ways, with how accurate the VAR system can be for these calls, it severely damages the role of the striker, especially those whose entire play style relies on hanging on the shoulder of the final defender. It becomes near impossible to slip in behind the defence without ensuring they start a yard back just in case.

As such, it’s perhaps time for a rethink of the offside ruling.

Nothing drastic needs done. Its a system that works, and its a system that is well understood by players and fans alike nowadays.

However, it is weighted heavily in the defender’s favour already. With the introduction of VAR, that defender advantage has become so strong in comparison it is arguably unfair.

It would be a simple fix too.

Rather than arguing offside is the second even a fraction of a player’s boot, knee, etc. has strayed beyond, we argue that a player is offside if say 50% of a player’s body is beyond the defensive line.

Its still therefore an easy call for a linesman to make – in some ways arguably an even easier one, as they’re less likely to be obstructed by another player for tight calls – and would put an end to a lot of the controversy.

Attackers suddenly have an incentive to make breaking runs and movement becomes important once again, whilst defenders are still not at a significant disadvantage nor is the offside trap tactic ruined.

Instead, you get a way to end the continued controversy of the ‘tight offside call’, something that has been the bane of players, clubs and fans throughout season after season and will continue to do so, whilst still not hampering the defence’s abilities to play smartly too significantly.

Referees and assistant referees aren’t going to receive quite so much abuse, because its a lot harder to argue against a call when a player is more than half of their body beyond the defender then it is if half of their shoulder is.

It’s not a perfect system, but it would prevent so much of the controversy and difficulty over offside calls.

It would make VAR quicker and more streamlined too – one of the biggest complaints of the system – because it would never take three or four minutes and countless replays to tell if a player has more than half of his body beyond the defensive line. It would be something you can tell from a quick glance usually, almost always within one or two replays.

No system with offside and VAR will be perfect, but at least in my opinion, changing it up would be far better than the future outlook that awaits us: continuous arguments over millimetre offside calls that are difficult even to see on the replays.

It’s hard to be unclear as to whether half a person is beyond someone. Not so for the slightest tip of a boot.

Why the 2019 Women’s World Cup could be the turning point for women’s football?

Why the 2019 Women’s World Cup could be the turning point for women’s football?

None more so than leading up to this summer has women’s football been in football fans’ attentions. Media coverage, the quality of players, even record attendances – everything seems primed heading into these World Cup finals in France for it to make that final push to be accepted on equal footing to the male counterpart.

As the world prepares for the opening clash between France and South Korea in the Parc des Princes in Paris, a spotlight is once again being shone upon the female side of the most popular sport in the world.

Four years ago, as Canada played host to the premier women’s football tournament, approximately 1.35 million people attended the 52 matches on show.

France’s offering is expected to see a similar or better turnout according to Fifa, but it is the TV viewing figures most noteworthy. The world football governing body expect the numbers to easily surpass the 750 million people who watched the event four years prior.

Back in 1995, in Sweden, just 4,500 people attended each game and a total attendance figure for the tournament ran in a little over 112,000 people. There was little coverage of games.

Certainly, women’s football is starting to grow by greater and greater numbers each iteration of the tournament, and year by year. This year’s competition in France will likely be the biggest spotlight so far for the sport, and as such its greatest stage to show off the true talent, pedigree and passion on offer in the women’s game.

Women’s football still falls woefully short in commercial backing when compared to the men’s game, and while some of that comes down to a lack of audience in domestic leagues compared to the men’s game, tournaments like the World Cup are offering advertisers and sponsors that vast audience.

There will be some of the finest stars on display in France this summer and there will be plenty eyes watching the action.

Sadly, though, there will not be all the top stars. Norway’s Ada Hegerberg – the first ever recipient of the female Ballon d’Or and the highest-paid female footballer – will not be present. Hegerberg made the personal decision to boycott the World Cup, walking away from the Norwegian national team in 2017 after becoming increasingly frustrated by what she deemed a “lack of respect” for female players.

Despite being the highest-paid female player, the 23-year-old Olympique Lyonnais striker earns only around $450,000 (£354,000) a year.

While that’s not a figure to be sniffed at, it is 325 times less than Barcelona star Lionel Messi – one of men’s football’s greatest current players – earns in the respective annual period.

Similarly, prize money still falls well short for women’s football as it currently stands.

The 2019 tournament will see a record $30m (£23.6m) in prize money – which is double the prize pot from 2015 – which is progress, but ultimately the winner’s $4m (£3.1m) share is still just 50% of what each of the 16 men’s teams eliminated in the group stages (the earliest stage) took home last summer in Russia.

Clearly, there are issues remaining in women’s football and while the wheels of progress are turning, they’re doing so still at a sluggish pace.

That is why France 2019 has the potential to be quite so significant for the female side of the sport. With the world’s eyes on the game, and with the quality of the players undeniably at its finest, it is truly a chance for these women’s national teams to prove just why those responsible for the commercial boom in football to pay attention equally to both genders.

There will always be more money in men’s football, for many years to come, due to its more established popularity and therefore easier financial returns, but tournaments like France have the potential to demonstrate just how much potential exists in the women’s game.

While there would undoubtedly mean a smaller initial reward financially for investors, there would also be a lower price of entry, and unlike the men’s game – which is already at its peak as the global superpower of sport – there is still so much space to grow.

Investors who join now can reap the ever-increasing rewards for many years to come, and women’s football is only going in one direction right now; upwards.

France has the opportunity to be the turning point for women’s football. Canada, four years ago, started the process of truly legitimising in the image of those key decision-makers and money-holders that there was true investment to be had in the women’s game.

Now, the country of the men’s World Cup holders, could leave it’s mark on the game of football once again by propelling the women’s game upwards into the bright future it deserves, and will one day reach, one way or another.

Women’s football is here to stay and to continue to grow and improve. A magnificent tournament hosted in one of Europe’s top football nations could be the moment those who watch the men’s game already finally sit up and take notice.

That is the legacy France 2019 has the potential to make of itself.

Netherlands 3-1 England AET; Defensive calamities cost the Three Lions & surely spell the end for Stones

Netherlands 3-1 England AET; Defensive calamities cost the Three Lions & surely spell the end for Stones

From minute one in Guimaraes, in front of a crowd predominantly sporting the St George’s cross, England were outplayed by their Dutch counterparts. Those donned in orange shirts dominated the ball and bossed the midfield, but it was ultimately costly mistakes that became England’s own undoing in Portugal.

England have become allergic to appearing in finals of international competitions, and once again it looked like it could be against Gareth Southgate’s side.

Once again, much like in Russia twelve months earlier, it was looking similar to a case of coming so close and yet still not quite being able to get over that final hurdle.

That’s why England’s opening goal came so against the run of play.

Marcus Rashford may not have had a good finish to the season domestically, as he watched himself and his Manchester United teammates fumble their way miserably to a poor league finish.

However, in an England shirt, he had all the hunger of a striker playing at his finest – even if he was starved of service for much of the game.

Pouncing on a highly uncharacteristic mistake by Ajax’s young rock Matthijs de Ligt, he brought the ball beyond the outstretched recovery swing of the Dutch defender and earned a stonewall penalty. The obligatory VAR check had to happen, but there was no circumstance under the sun it wasn’t a spot kick.

Rashford picked himself up and dusted off the heavy knock that had left him in some discomfort, before dispatching confidently past Netherlands goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.

The Three Lions had the lead, if undeserved, and the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques erupted. There was an overwhelming majority of England supporters packed into its 30,000 seats.

Even despite the lead though, Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands pressed the ball. Their creative spark in the midfield created and connived to fashion space in and around the England team.

Their counterparts in white – Ross Barkley, Declan Rice and Fabian Delph – simply didn’t to anywhere the same extent.

As such, when a second half corner to the Dutch ended with de Ligt rising highest and powering a bullet header into the near side of Jordan Pickford’s goal, nobody could say they were surprised. Or they were lying if they did.

England were off the boil, and struggling to create, and as such their opponents punished them.

Then came a moment of contention. England, with easily their best fashioned chance of the entire game, slotted in substitute Jesse Lingard, who thought he’d won the semi-final for the Three Lions with just eight minutes left on the clock.

It was the kind of fluid, attacking move that England had sorely missed throughout the game, but there was yet to be a cruel twist.

Upon the mandatory VAR check, Lingard was seen to be questionably offside. It was a tight call against Dutch full back Denzel Dumfries, but there was an argument there to be made that he was half a yard at most ahead of the defence. That was the view of the officials too, and the goal was chalked off. England’s finest attacking move of the game, which looked like it had won them the match, stood for nothing anymore.

Infuriating for England fans, but there a tight call to be made, and if it had been the Netherlands scoring a late goal, those same supporters would have been outraged if the goal had stood.

Extra time came calling as a result, and that’s where the wheels came off for England truly.

John Stones, who’d had another shaky game – as he has done in a number of games in recent times both domestically and internationally – lost the plot, is probably the best way of describing it.

We all know he has been fashioned into the ball-playing defender model of centre back at Manchester City. Southgate wants to play that style too; the modern evolution of the man at the back, who carries it out and plays as much as the midfield.

That’s lovely, and it makes for beautiful football when it works, but it also asks for mistakes to happen.

Even the best in the world do so. On the opposite team – in de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk – two of arguably the world’s best in this role were lined up, and England’s opening goal had come from a similar mistake of that nature.

Stones, despite the patriotic, rose-tinted glasses of many England supporters, is not one of the best in the world. He’s error prone under pressure; not great for a position and style of play that requires defenders to be cool under pressure.

That shakiness came to the forefront as clear as day against the Netherlands in extra time. Stones dallied on the ball initially, having had an age to clear it to safety, before turning towards his goalkeeper and simply allowing the ball to be stolen away from him by Memphis Depay.

Initially, the Manchester City defender was bailed out by a great save by Pickford to deny the Dutch, but the ball bounced across the box and the sheer pace of winger Quincy Promes allowed him to barrel his way to the ball and, via a helpful redirection from Kyle Walker’s knee, bundle it into the back of the net.

England suddenly found themselves for the first time in the game behind and it was entirely from their own calamitous creation.

The Dutch third covered England in no greater light either. Again Stones involved, he played an underweight pass to Barkley on the edge of the box, before the Chelsea man’s own backpass towards goal was lacking the necessary power.

The Netherlands pounced and one simply ball across the box allowed Promes to smash home the third for the Dutch and earn himself his place on the scoresheet, having seen his earlier strike ultimately recorded as a Walker own goal.

Within the space of extra time, England had gone from a side being outplayed to a side that looked completely unaware how to play the game of football.

It has to be a worry for Southgate, who wants to play this attacking style of football – and yes, mistakes and bad games will happen – but even removing the mistakes in this match, the Netherlands were without question the better side throughout.

Against top opposition, England just don’t seem to have the cutting edge required. It very much seems to be the usual case that easy qualification processes papering over the cracks, and that’s why the Nations League format will be so interesting, as England face up much more regularly against tougher opponents, for better or worse results-wise.

Either way, I do believe that this should be the end of Stones’ time, at least for a lengthy period, in the England setup. He’s too much of a liability at the back, and there are English defenders at lower clubs in the Premier League who arguably deserve their chance instead.

Sure, a lot of those aren’t necessarily the ball-playing centre backs Southgate wants, but in many ways, given how costly mistakes from that role have been in this game and previously, a no-nonsense central defender to partner these more creative forces might be just what England needs to steady the defensive ship because right now it’s sprung a quite serious leak.

It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Southgate’s England selection and Stones in particular. However, while my opinion would be to cut the Manchester City man, the current England manager is loyal to his chosen players and so I can’t see much change on the horizon – which does worry me for improving the current problem.