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England are all smiles after storming through to the quarter-finals of Euro 2024 after beating Slovakia with late goals from Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane

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England’s Harry Kane celebrates his side’s second goal against Slovenia (Photo: Reuters)

 

England seal stunning comeback to beat Slovakia 2-1 in extra-time

England 2-1 Slovakia 

ARENA AUFSCHALKE — There are moments that change the course of history, and this was one of them.

England a goal down, in stoppage time, no shots on target, within seconds of a humiliating exit. It was from a long throw, too. And England never do long throws.

It was a scrappy flick-on. And there, in the middle, was Jude Bellingham, who soared through the air, twisting his body into a physics-defying bicycle kick to send the ball out of the goalkeeper’s reach and haul England into extra time.

England’s players celebrated like they had won Euro 2024, the whole squad, substitutes rushing from seats, joined in a giant hug. And why not? Avoiding the abject slaughter that was coming their way is almost as rewarding as lifting the trophy.

England had gone 252 minutes without a goal and Bellingham had pretty much gone missing since the first 20 minutes against Serbia, but Gareth Southgate had ignored calls to drop the young Real Madrid forward and that was, precisely, why. You can’t drop the rare players who possess that magic.

Southgate had said he would resist throwing everything out the window, making only one change to the starting line-up, but in the end he demolished the entire house to somehow keep England in the tournament.

By that stage England had almost an entire XI of forwards on the pitch and, bewilderingly, they took the lead a minute into extra time — substitute Eberechi Eze fluffing the ball to substitute Ivan Toney who nodded it into the path of Harry Kane to head England in front.

This was all in another realm to the 90 minutes that had come before, when England played over 500 passes without a shot on target and were within minutes of being eliminated in the last-16 by a country ranked 45th in the world.

Everyone had been waiting for it to click — like the heady days of those first 20 minutes against Serbia when Bellingham put England in front and the country looked like potential champions.

Surely it would come against Denmark? Surely it would come against Slovenia? Surely it would come against Slovakia?

But before England clicked, they cracked. There had been signs of fissures in the defence before Slovakia took a 25th-minute lead — too many wrong decisions, too many passes straight to opponents, too many positional mistakes — and the defence finally broke.

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