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England Claim Their Road is Clear, But Swiss can Still Provide the Roadblock

By Graham Thomas

When do you know if a turning point is truly that?

England have been claiming all week they reached a fork in the road in the dying moments of their Euro 2024 last 16 tie against Slovakia. 

One route was signposted “Humiliating Exit Ahead”. The other said, “Jude Bellingham Moment”.

But football is never quite that simple and rarely about the one single goal. What about the chances that had been blown before then by Slovakia, or the earlier opportunities by Gareth Southgate’s team?

When Wales marched all the way to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, there were several crossroads, rather than just one clear divide.

There was the moment Gareth McCauley turned Gareth Bale’s cross past goalkeeper Michael McGovern for the own goal that nudged Wales through, 1-0, past Northern Ireland in their own round of 16 game.

Another was the vital equaliser headed home by Ashley Williams when Wales were 1-0 down against Belgium in the quarter-final.

The Hal Robson-Kanu turn and shot and the Sam Vokes header later in that game were also vital in different ways, in that they reduced the possibility of other outcomes.

The same goes for the towering header scored by Cristiano Ronaldo after 50 minutes of Wales’ semi-final against Portugal – a route to the final for the Portuguese, a dead end for Wales.

On its own, the Bellingham moment looks like a turning point, but it will be a route that fails to reach its ultimate destination if England are victims to a Switzerland moment – a late winning goal – in Saturday’s quarter-final.

England defender John Stones is probably right when he says the Bellingham escape route was more significant in what it has changed within England’s psyche.

“I think it is a turning point emotionally, to do it in such a high-pressure moment in the last few minutes,” the centre-half said. 

“I believe it is going to change a lot of things for the team, going through these emotions.”

England have been desperately poor for most of this tournament, yet if they now beat the Swiss, get past either the Netherlands or Turkey in a semi-final, they will be in a second successive Euros final and close to justifying the favourites tag they wore at the  start of the tournament.

DragonBet make England favourites to win their quarter-final in Dusseldorf, at 6/5. Switzerland are 11/4 outsiders, with the draw at 19/10.

Harry Kane – scorer of what proved the winner against Slovakia – is a 4/1 shot to score the first goal and 75/1 to get himself a hat-trick. Bellingham is 9/1 to be first on the scoresheet.

Their 2-1 win has made England return to their position of joint favourites to lift the trophy – at 7/2, along  with Spain.

France are 9/2, alongside Germany.

The other quarter-final on Saturday – Netherlands against Turkey – also has a clear favourite, with the Dutch at 4/7 and Turkey priced 9/2.

The Netherlands have flattered to deceive in recent years, but they produced their most convincing tournament performance for a long time with their 3-0 victory over Romania in the first knockout round.

Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo was man-of-the-match with one goal and an assist for Donyell Malen and the Dutch striker is likely to be the biggest threat to the Turks.

The Crescent Stars may be the underdogs, but their momentum and belief will feel sky high after their thrilling 2-1 victory over Austria.

That match included another huge moment – maybe the moment of the tournament so far – the  brilliant, defiant save by  goalkeeper Mert Gunok in the dying seconds when the Austrians were pressing hard.

Christophe Baumgartner must have thought his header was going to bring the escape route of extra-time, but Gunok proved a roadblock.

It was a moment to savour for every Turk, a moment to enjoy for every admirer of the art of the goalkeeper.

But that moment will soon be forgotten if Gunok drops a clanger early on against the Dutch.

Moments in tournaments come and go and it’s the final moment in the final match that will prove the most memorable.

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