Van Dijk blamed for ‘terrible’ and ‘ridiculous’ England game in nonsensical McManaman criticism

Matt Stead
England manager Gareth Southgate consoles Netherlands defender Virgil van Dijk
Hope Virgil van Dijk is proud of himself

Virgil van Dijk and John Stones have been bizarrely blamed for the poor quality of England’s European Championship semi-final against the Netherlands.

England beat the Dutch to reach their second consecutive European Championship final, coming from behind after Xavi Simons’ first-half opener.

Harry Kane responded from the spot soon after when referee Felix Zwayer awarded an incredibly controversial penalty.

👉 Ex-FIFA referee reveals new reason England penalty shouldn’t have stood as fresh footage emerges
👉 Van Dijk reveals what referee did that ‘says a lot’ about England decision that ‘destroys football’
👉 Dutch pundits demand ref is ‘blacklisted’, slam ‘screaming and rolling’ Kane and blast Netherlands player

Ollie Watkins then scored in the 90th minute to send England through to face Spain in Berlin on Sunday.

But not everyone was impressed with the standard of the performance from either side, with Steve McManaman blaming two players in particular.

‘Both teams were terrible’

“Brilliant result. Overjoyed for a lot of the lads there because I know them personally,” he said.

“It’s hard speaking five or ten minutes after the game when you’ve just reached the European Championship final, but they do need to improve again, don’t they?

“First half they were really positive. Second half, it was not a good football advert whatsoever. I thought both teams were terrible in the second half.”

McManaman felt the introduction of Watkins and Palmer helped change the complexion of a game which had become stale.

“He wants to turn, he wants to go forward, he wants to try and thread something,” he said of Palmer. “The game, particularly in the second half, was so negative – both teams this was, not an England thing, both teams going backwards, sideways, scared to try something.

“I just think England get a little safe. I think they get a little bit more secure. They start passing it out at the back and think ‘we have got the ball here. We will try to tire the opposition out’.

“But when you just go from side to side to side. It drives you mad. The opposition then gets dragged into doing exactly the same when they had the ball. They went from side to side. It was ridiculous.

👉 16 Conclusions on England 2-1 Netherlands: Watkins, subs, Mainoo, Southgate, *that* penalty and more
👉 Top ten greatest England finals performances of our lifetime has a new entry
👉 England ‘weak link’ should be dropped for the Euro 2024 final

“Virgil van Dijk must have had more passes than anybody on the pitch. That shows you what it was like defensively. John Stones, on one side, had more passes than anybody. Virgil van Dijk, the other side. That should not happen. It looked as if both teams wanted to get to extra time. I don’t know why because the second half was a terrible affair until the 91st minute and we got the goal.”

Declan Rice made the most passes of any player (94). John Stones and Marc Guehi both attempted 87 and Van Dijk was next on 65, with teammate Stefan de Vrij (59) fifth in the game overall.

Central defenders make the most passes in almost every game: Aymeric Laporte and William Saliba made the most of any player for Spain and France respectively in the other semi-final.

“It’s a couple of England subs, whether it’s just fresh legs, whether it’s fresh mentally, coming on and wanting to go forwards, wanting to make the run into the penalty box,” McManaman added. “The right ball in and Ollie Watkins doing what he does a lot of the time, moving.”