Euro 2024, day 23: England’s water bottle ‘cheat code’ and can the Netherlands go all the way?

The list of Euro 2024 semi-finals is complete.

While France and Spain secured a place in the last four yesterday, England and the Netherlands followed them with victories today.

Both quarter-finals were tight and dramatic in their own way. England once again looked laboured and unimaginative for much of their encounter with Switzerland, but they managed to progress thanks to Bukayo Saka’s brilliant individual goal – which cancelled out Breel Embolo’s opener – and some heroics in the penalty shootout.

The Netherlands, meanwhile, came from behind against Turkey to reach their first European Championship semi-final in 20 years, setting up a meeting with England in Dortmund on Wednesday.

Our editors break down the main talking points.

The secret to English penalties? It’s all in the bottle

At first, there didn’t seem to be much.

Cole Palmer had just scored England’s first penalty in the shootout against Switzerland and Manuel Akanji stepped up to respond. England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford also stepped up before abruptly backing away.

Pickford had forgotten something: his water bottle, strangely wrapped in a towel. After retrieving it, he returned to his goal and placed the bottle, still wrapped in its towel, next to the side netting.

After making Akanji wait a little longer by advancing to inspect the penalty spot, Pickford settled on his goal line. Akanji had a short run-up and struck the ball with his right foot, but Pickford was one step ahead. He dove to his left, pushed the penalty away and England took an advantage they never lost.

A stroke of luck? Not so much. It was in fact a triumph of subterfuge for England and their team of analysts who had studied the penalties of all the Swiss players, noted where they tended to place them and printed out their findings for Pickford to stick on his water bottle.

The analysis was captured by a pitchside photographer, but Pickford took no risks in the moments leading up to Akanji’s penalty – hence his decision to wrap the bottle in that towel.

And the English stands had clearly done their job well. They had understood that Akanji was likely to shoot to his right, so the best way for Pickford to play the percentages was to dive to the left – which he duly did.

Pickford’s water bottle with instructions for Akanji’s penalty (we’ve circled it here)

Having succeeded first time round, it was surprising that Pickford did not follow his bottle’s advice on all penalties.

Fabian Schar scored his second penalty but instead of pretending to dive right before diving left, as the bottle instructed, Pickford did the opposite, pretending to dive left and jumping right. Schar’s penalty went as the bottle predicted, to his right, where the net was empty.

Pickford followed his bottle for the last two Swiss penalties: Xherdan Shaqiri struck his to the right, but it was too well placed and his shot narrowly evaded Pickford’s fingertips.

The only penalty where the bottle was proven wrong was Zeki Amdouni’s fourth shot. Pickford stood his ground and dove low to his left, as he had been told, but Amdouni beat him to his right.

Luckily for England, that one save was enough. And if their semi-final against the Netherlands also goes to the wire on Wednesday, don’t be surprised to see Pickford’s bottle and towel make another appearance.

Andrew Fifield

Saka is the star, but where is Kane?

When Saka starts well, England start well. He was their best player in the first half against Serbia in the opening game of Euro 2024, when he repeatedly beat Andrija Zivkovic, and today he did it again.

It was no coincidence that the first half was England’s best since the tournament began almost three weeks ago. Pushed high and wide in possession, in a formation that almost resembled a 3-4-3, Saka had to deal with left-back Michel Aebischer. And he beat him easily.

On numerous occasions in the first half, Saka took advantage of the fact that England were getting the ball to him much quicker than they had against Slovakia in the previous round. Saka got into good positions, crossed and forced corners. The only frustration was that England were never able to convert any of those crosses into serious penalties.

Bukayo Saka was a star for England (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Striker Harry Kane, who had a tendency to drop back throughout the match, ending up playing in defence at times in the second half, was unable to collect Saka’s passes. Kane was substituted in extra time after an accidental touchline collision with England manager Gareth Southgate.

Without the ball, Saka had to run to cover Ruben Vargas, but he did so diligently. And when England needed him most, Saka scored the crucial equaliser, just when his team seemed completely out of ideas.

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Can the Netherlands go all the way?

An unconvincing run, a manager who doesn’t convince many people, a few comeback victories and the feeling that being in the right half of the table is the only reason they are in the semi-finals… for England, understand the Netherlands.

But here they are in the last four of the Euro for the first time since 2004. So, what are their chances of winning a second major tournament in their history?

Turkey were able to exploit their weaknesses in the quarter-finals, particularly on set pieces and crosses, while Austria also took advantage of a poorly organised defence to find themselves in third place in the group stage. But the Netherlands also have something to show for it.

Netherlands celebrate their victory against Turkey (Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Like England, when they are confident and on form, showing composure and intensity, they can be great to watch, as they were when they beat Romania 3-0 in the last 16.

Tonight they had to show determination, morale… and a certain tactical sense from manager Ronald Koeman with his changes in the second half.

Three-goal scorer Cody Gakpo is an obvious threat (Turkey dealt with his problem well until he slipped in at the far post to take advantage of a sleepy defence and help score the winner, via Mert Muldur’s own goal), while if Jerdy Schouten, Tijjani Reijnders and Xavi Simons are given time and space in midfield, they can play – and then some.

Denzel Dumfries is always a speedy danger from full-back and there is also the big Wout Weghorst to throw into the mix from the bench for aerial carnage.

England will have something to think about.

Given current form, Wednesday’s semi-final in Dortmund looks too close to call.

Tim Spiers

Guler leaves… as a star

While a teenager from FC Barcelona – Spaniard Lamine Yamal – has rightly attracted attention throughout the tournament for his sparkling performances, a player from their arch-rivals Real Madrid has emerged as someone just as exciting.

Turkey’s Arda Guler may not have featured very often for Madrid last season, mainly due to injury, but he finished his first year at the Bernabeu in fabulous form (five goals in five games) and has carried that momentum into Euro 2024.

Arda Guler was a star at Euro 2024 (Odd Andersen/AFP via Getty Images)

His second assist of the tournament against the Netherlands today was a marvel. Turkey and Guler, after a slow start, had entered the game with a series of menacing set pieces that the Dutch struggled to deal with, and the opening goal was a continuation of that.

Collecting a cleared corner on the right of the box, Guler was eager to try and get the ball onto his favoured left foot and whip it into the area.

With no angle to do so, the 19-year-old, who had also hit the post from a free-kick in the second half, reluctantly made a move with his right… and delivered a perfect outside cross that completely baffled goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen, who looked like someone who had half-crossed a road only to step back and hesitate when he saw a speeding motorbike hurtling towards him.

Verbruggen did not jump to retrieve the ball or to return to his goal line. He was helpless. Samet Akaydin stepped up to the far post, which was only playing because of Merih Demiral’s suspension, and he placed an easy header into the net.

Guler’s tournament may be over, but there is a sense that this is just the beginning of a brilliant career for club and country.

Tim Spiers

And after?

  • Spain vs France (Tuesday, 8:00 p.m. BST; 3:00 p.m. ET)
  • Netherlands v England (Wednesday, 20:00 BST; 15:00 ET)

(Top photo: Carl Recine/Getty Images)