'We can change our lives forever': England's shot at history still alive

'We can change our lives forever': England's shot at history still alive

Published Jul. 6, 2024 5:03 p.m. ET

DÜSSELDORF, Germany – Redemption can take many forms. For England on Saturday, it didn't come with sparkling soccer — gosh, they've almost forgotten what that looks like — but with iron will and a desire to create history.

History, what a word for England fans. What a desperate, tortured word, after so many near-misses and broken dreams, and penalty pain, and the Hand of God, and three years ago, and penalty pain and Beckham's red card, and penalty pain, and 2018, and 1990, when, yep, there was penalty pain as well.

After a thrilling shootout victory over Switzerland, Gareth Southgate's team and all its comeback kids, led by Bukayo Saka and Trent Alexander-Arnold in the sweetness of storyline stakes, are back in their third semifinal from the past four major tournaments.

All of which means that this tale will either end with the same old story of more tears and "not quite," more realization that it isn't coming home – or a magical helping of something else. That would be glory, and it would strike on such a long-awaited scale that nothing would ever be the same again.


"We know there's two more games until we can change our lives and make some history that's never been made before," Saka told reporters, with England to take the Netherlands in Dortmund on Wednesday (3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). "We are really focused on that. We will enjoy tonight and obviously be focused on the next game."

England vs. Switzerland Full Penalty Shootout | UEFA Euro 2024 | Quarterfinals

Saka missed the clinching penalty in the Euro 2020 final shootout against Italy, but stepped up here, not only to secure an equalizer when it was desperately needed, but with the kick to keep England ahead after Manuel Akanji missed, the only blip of the mini-contest.

A Euro 2024 campaign that has danced a merry flirtation with failure did so again against Switzerland, and survived it thanks to players who've sampled the most bitter parts that playing for England can entail.

Five clean penalty kicks from five attempts put the Three Lions through, and for once the poisoned sting of the shootout didn't stop England in its tracks.

Southgate danced in front of the England fans and gave Saka a "big cuddle" in the joyous moments that followed the end, and there should have been one reserved for Alexander-Arnold, too.

The Liverpool right-back was played out of position in the first two games, did poorly, was castigated for it and relieved of those duties, presumably never to return until the Euros were done.

Except Southgate threw him on end of extra time to replace a leg-weary Phil Foden, himself a fine penalty taker. Not only that but Alexander-Arnold's duty was to convert the fifth kick, the one that sparked all the delirium.

And for all of England's poor play and supposedly misguided tactics, the potential remains to match the 1966 World Cup as the nation's only major tournament win.

"Of course, now we want to deliver one more thing," Southgate added. "We have never been to a final outside England, we have never won a Euros, so there are two bits of history we would love to create."

England DEFEATS Switzerland in PK shootout to ADVANCE to semifinals | UEFA Euro 2024

There was a glut of stories worth telling. Captain Harry Kane shows his leadership in different ways at different times. This tournament's tactical approach has often left him with few touches, and it was the same again here.

It must have been hard for Kane to say he needed to come out, exhausted and cramping, in extra time, but he did it anyway.

Ivan Toney, who was banned for eight months last year for betting infractions, came on for him and was ice cool from the spot.

"So many little stories," Southgate said, and there were. Cole Palmer, who had to wait patiently for his chance here in Germany. Jude Bellingham, who some even dared suggest should be dropped after the group stage. Not now.

"Cole at his age taking the first," Southgate said. "Bukayo with his history. Jude, you almost expect it from him now, but that's high pressure. Ivan, one of the reasons we brought him was for that moment.

"I thought we played well all night. We had to be so good without the ball — they are a good team and the shape and rotations cause you a problem. We had to defend with real discipline.

"And Trent, he could've thought his tournament was done. I told him he would still have moments, still have a role to play. 

More roles, more stories to come, maybe. More redemption? For England, having come this far, there is only one outcome that can soothe all those historic wounds.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience

Get more from UEFA Euro Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more