England are through to the semi-finals of the European Championships and now regarded as the ‘penalty experts’ of international football.

The victory over Switzerland from those previously dreaded spot-kicks after 120 minutes of excruciating tension was, from an England perspective, a blend of mildly encouraging improvement from previous games and continued frustration with a team that has the tools to play better.

But does it matter how well we play?

Looking back on some of the most painful penalty shoot-out defeats in England’s history, there was a common theme: v Germany in 1990 and 1996, Argentina in 1998, Portugal in 2004 and 2006, all games where England played very well, played with immense courage going forward, deserved to win, but ultimately lost.

Against Switzerland in 2024, we did not play very well, we did not play with immense courage and we probably did not deserve to win…but we did, and for all the opinions on manager Gareth Southgate, his England teams win more games than his predecessors.

The old saying goes that a ‘lucky manager is better than a good manager’. Southgate is definitely a lucky manager but, game of opinions here, he is not a good manager!

Apart from some mystical power in manipulating draws to give England the easiest possible routes in major tournaments and a clear plan of practising penalties, ‘Southgate the Spawny’ is a very lucky boy.

That’s no crime, but where we do take umbrage is the lack of genuine analysis from our panel of experts on the telly.

Rio Ferdinand, a great player in his day, was the biggest culprit on Saturday night.

England did play better in the first half, our intensity was better, we looked more of a threat and, credit where it is due, the defence was as solid as it has been all tournament.

After the break, we reverted to type. The low block is not enough for Mr Southgate, he has gone one step further with a personal invention, The Mariana Block.

As the boys in white, except an obviously knackered Harry Kane, pitched tent in their own penalty box, the whole country could see Switzerland’s goal coming, all of us! The Switzerland coach made two changes on 64 minutes, his team looked refreshed and dangerous.

England’s back nine were busy assembling the guy ropes, with a nation screaming at their screens: ‘Change it Gareth, freshen up this team’. Frozen on the touchline, ‘Southgate the Spawny’ ignored our calls until the Swiss scored on 75 minutes.

Two minutes later, he made changes, we looked refreshed and the brilliant Bukayo Saka equalised, England even appeared more likely to win it in normal time.

Thankfully for our cautious leader, he had time to gather the troops for another chat before extra time and remind them of the Mariana Block. Yes, both teams were exhausted but Switzerland were by far the more progressive in extra time, they were the side looking to win the game. Penalty practise and Jordan Pickford saved us.

Back to Mr Ferdinand, who provided this glorious moment of ‘expert insight’ after the game: "I was looking on my WhatsApp groups and they were going crazy. When Switzerland made their substitutions, everyone started getting on to Gareth and you look on social media, everyone was hammering him.

“He's left it too late'. Even us lot up here were going, 'why's he not doing this? But you have to give him credit. He's calm under these situations. He doesn't panic and does it in his own time and when he wants.

"People outside may look at it and go 'he should do this', but he's getting it right and you have to give him huge credit for that."

Game of opinions, but what are you on about?

Southgate wasn’t calm, he did panic, he is not proactive as a coach, he does not see the obvious danger, he sits and hopes it will work out ok. Ref: Croatia and Italy defeats.

We waited until Switzerland scored, which was more obvious than a Tory collapse in the election, then we brought on fresh legs and got lucky with a special moment from the sublime Saka.

Having said all that, who cares, we won.

We move on to the Netherlands and a potential final against either Spain, the antithesis of Southgate with their expansive and exciting football, or we could play France, who have achieved the impossible by being even more cautious than England with their attacking talent.

Player Ratings

Jordan Pickford 9: A rival to Germany’s Antonio Rudiger in the realms of ‘madness’ on the pitch but impeccable in his work, once again for England, and made the crucial penalty save with the help of water bottle revision.

Bukayo Saka 9: What a performance from the lad who has played a multitude of positions already. Scored a great goal, notched his penalty with poise, our biggest attacking threat by far and also excellent in his defensive work.

Kyle Walker 6: Didn’t do much wrong defensively, perhaps let the Swiss forward get in front of him for their goal, but his clumsiness when passing forward is not a great help.

John Stones 7: Calm, assured, classic John Stones.

Ezri Konsa 8.5: Outstanding from the young man thrust into the side for suspended Marc Guehi, he did not put a foot wrong at the back and deserves huge credit.

Kieran Trippier 4: It doesn’t work, he can’t kick the ball with his left foot, which gives our attacking work huge imbalance…and he got skinned by their right winger on a couple of occasions.

Declan Rice 6.5: Worked hard, provided some crucial interceptions in midfield and almost scored a worldy but his play on the half-turn and progressive passing was limited in quality.

Kobbie Mainoo 7.5: A class act in midfield, he is a perfect example of someone playing with confidence and freshness.

Phil Foden 4: It is hard to say it when talking about a player who has such wonderful technical ability but Foden has had a poor tournament, he looks tired, low on confidence and a proper coach would give him a rest.

Jude Bellingham 6.5: Had the tough task of making our left side operate with more fluency and provided some powerful runs, took his penalty beautifully, but not his brilliant best.

Harry Kane 4.5: The skipper is spent, he didn’t win battles when the ball came forward and, particularly when Saka delivered dangerous crosses in the first half, he was on his haunches.

Cole Palmer 8: He has to replace Foden for the Netherlands game, performing with confidence, always looking to play forward and set the tone with a fine first penalty.

Luke Shaw 7: His first outing in about 40 years and we finally had some balance in the team.

Eberechi Eze 7: Got a bit excited with one shot close to the end of normal time but brings some effortless grace to the pitch when gliding past players.

Ivan Toney 7.5: Perfect penalty and should have been introduced a lot sooner for the weary captain.

Trent Alexander-Arnold 7.5: Should have started the game, given just a few minutes before being thrust into the pressure of penalties, and responded with a superb winning strike.

Gareth Southgate 5.5: Given his personal playing history and the fact we are a team playing for penalties, it’s hardly a surprise that spot-kick practise is his primary coaching asset.