Euro 2024: Key battles as England face Dutch test in semis

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Netherlands captain Van Dijk and his England counterpart Harry Kane. [ AFP]

England take on the Netherlands tonight in Dortmund in a Euro 2024 semi-final clash, bidding to lift a major trophy for the first time since the 1966 World Cup.

Here AFP Sport looks at five of the key battles in the game with the Three Lions vying with the Euro 1988 winners to reach the final in Berlin on July 14.

Kane v Van Dijk

England striker Harry Kane has endured an underwhelming tournament, far from the goal machine he proved in his first season at Bayern Munich.

Finishing the season with a back problem, Kane clearly is nowhere close to his physical peak and now must tussle with Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.

The giant Dutchman has not been at his best either but like his team, has improved in the knock-out rounds.

With England coach Gareth Southgate reluctant to take off his stars, keeping Kane marshalled could go a long way to stopping the somewhat limited threat England have thus far been capable of offering.

Trippier v Dumfries

Southgate’s decision to play with Kieran Trippier on the left of defence has drawn criticism for being too defensive as it denies England any width on that flank.

However if there is any match where his presence could prove vital it is against the Netherlands.

Dutch right-back Denzel Dumfries leapt to fame for his buccaneering runs down the right in Euro 2020 and he has been a menace again this summer.

The always-enterprising Dumfries set up his team’s winner against Turkey in the quarter-final with a dangerous raking cross.

Trippier’s primary job will be to keep Dumfries out of the game, which is no easy task.

Dutch left v England right

Liverpool winger Cody Gakpo is the joint-top scorer at the Euros with three goals and has been the Netherlands’ key attacking threat.

Most of their dangerous moves rely on his involvement at some point in the process, but in England right-back Kyle Walker he faces a tough defender to get the better of.

The Manchester City man can match Gakpo for pace and Southgate will instruct Bukayo Saka to be diligent in his tracking back to help minimise the threat down the Netherlands’ left flank.

At the other end Arsenal’s Saka faces off with a familiar foe in City’s Nathan Ake, who has fared well against him at club level, but still names the England winger as one of his toughest opponents.

Bellingham v Schouten and Reijnders

While England and Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham has not hit top form yet, he has played a decisive role at key moments in England’s run to the semi-finals.

The 21-year-old’s most dramatic contribution was a stunning overhead kick against Slovakia late in the last 16 clash to save England from elimination.

Netherlands will be looking to their deeper-lying midfield duo Tijjani Reijnders and Jerdy Schouten to keep Bellingham under wraps.

The Dutch pair have fared well together and coach Ronald Koeman seems all-in on them now after starting Joey Veerman against Austria but hauling him off in the first half as the Dutch fell to defeat in their third group game.

Southgate v Koeman

The managers’ substitutions may well play a vital role in the outcome of the game, as was evidenced in both of these teams’ quarter-final wins.

Southgate brought on Luke Shaw, Cole Palmer and others and England rapidly levelled against Switzerland with just 10 minutes to go.

Three of Southgate’s substitutes -- Ivan Toney, Trent Alexander-Arnold and Palmer -- also converted their penalties in England’s 5-3 shoot-out win.

Netherlands’ Euro 1988 captain Koeman, meanwhile, threw on Wout Weghorst with his team 1-0 down at half-time against Turkey and secured a 2-1 win.

The six-foot-six Burnley target man put the proverbial cat among the pigeons and is raring to do so again against England, where his club career hit a bump in the road.

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