The Netherlands will face Portugal in the final of the inaugural UEFA Nations League after they beat England 3-1 in extra time at the Estadio D. Afonso Henriques in Guimaraes, Portugal, on Thursday.
De Oranje came from behind after Marcus Rashford won a penalty and converted from the spot thanks to a mistimed tackle from Ajax's Matthijs de Ligt.
The prodigious defender went from zero to hero when he powered home an equaliser in the 73rd minute, and Kyle Walker's own goal in the 97th minute completed a memorable comeback.
Memphis Depay pressured the England defence before Quincy Promes forced Walker to poke the ball into his own net, and the Sevilla winger scored one of his own outright following a similar sequence in the 114th minute.
Cristiano Ronaldo's hat-trick led Portugal to a 3-1 victory over Switzerland on Wednesday, and the two finalists will meet at Porto's Estadio do Dragao on Sunday.
Penalty Panic Will Harm De Ligt's Transfer Stock
Being responsible for a goal for both teams may be a decent enough day's work for most defenders, but it's not sufficient for one hailed as the coming of a new prototype and linked with the world's elite.
It's the centre-back's defensive attributes, after all, that suitors will examine and not his ability to score from a set piece (though it doesn't hurt).
De Ligt's unassuming turn of pace often surprises due to his large, 6'2" frame, but he was a yard off when Rashford nipped in to poke the ball and win a spot-kick just after the half-hour mark, per ITV:
It was the kind of challenge central defensive team-mate, Virgil van Dijk, has repelled time and again for Liverpool and the Netherlands this season.
That includes Saturday's UEFA Champions League final win over Tottenham hotspur and is a nod to those most minute margins in which the elder Dutch defender is still the clear superior.
The Telegraph's Paul Hayward said De Ligt—who has been linked with Manchester United and Liverpool, as well as Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, per RMC Sport (h/t Mirror's Rich Jones)—appeared distant:
All signs have suggested it's a matter of when and not if De Ligt leaves Amsterdam this summer, but the cost of the transfer means the finest margins and mistakes could have a dramatic impact.
That refers to De Ligt's transfer prospects this summer and not his reputation on the whole; one foul could affect what club a player joins in any given transfer window, but his error can't ruin a season of mighty work.
After all, its says a lot that the resulting caution was De Ligt's first in international colours, per OptaJohan:
It's especially pertinent that a UEFA Nations League semi-final—the second to take place—is a big occasion that could illustrate he's not yet the finished package some would tout him to be.
The collapse against Tottenham Hotspur—and more specifically Lucas Moura—in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals also won't have improved the centre-back's reputation on the big stages.
Sportswriter Andy West joked that the mistake was becoming of a Barcelona player on this occasion, as the Catalan club also fell out of the Champions League finals following a shock 4-0 loss to Liverpool:
De Ligt's mistake against Rashford came not long after a 2018 clip resurfaced, in which De Ligt hailed the United striker as the toughest opponent he's faced: "Great player, quick, technical skills."
He came off second-best when the Red Devils beat Ajax to the 2017 UEFA Europa League title, and Rashford could again strike an end-of-season blow to the Dutchman two years on. Not only that, but De Ligt was lucky not to give Rashford a penalty for another tackle when England beat the Netherlands 1-0 last year.
For all the criticism of De Ligt's worst moment, his header was just as key to the result and steered the Netherlands into extra time and ultimately the final. But those admirers will know how capable he is in the air, and his goal may not affect their pursuit of his signature as much.
Obviously De Ligt has a better ratio than this result suggests, but being responsible for opposition goals isn't a trend managers favour in their defenders.
After swashbuckling appearances against the best that Real Madrid, Juventus and Bayern Munich had to offer this season, the 19-year-old showed rare nerves in an early test of his mettle.
That incident is sure to be a point of interest to those considering spending tens of millions on a teenage asset this summer, with his ability to keep cool being a top priority.
Defensive Errors Dredge Up Familiar England Terror
There's been plenty of reason to be upbeat as an England supporter during the Gareth Southgate era. That has included a run to fourth at the 2018 FIFA World Cup and plenty of faith in newer talents like Jadon Sancho, Harry Maguire and Ben Chilwell.
But for all the minutes England spent showing signs of promise moving forward with the ball, it was a pair of mistakes inside their own half that revived feelings of falling short on the big stage.
John Stones stopped and started on the edge of his own area before Depay robbed him in the build-up to the Netherlands' second goal, via ESPN FC (U.S. only):
Soccer AM illustrated the pain many England fans will have felt at the time:
Southgate has become somewhat synonymous with his missed penalty against Germany during a shootout at Euro 1996. The level of the Nations League means it won't leave the same mark on Stones' career, but he won't forget the slip in a hurry.
Former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson condemned the mistake during his appearance on beIN Sports:
beIN SPORTS @beINSPORTS
"John Stones has been awful tonight and that's capped his night off!" "He could well have cost his team tonight." Former England goalkeeper @GKPaulRobinson slams Man City defender for Netherlands' 2nd goal Follow live updates 👉 https://t.co/3XEXB3PggA #NationsLeague #NEDENG https://t.co/OU3zSECM3R
As if one such slip in extra time isn't bad enough, the result was put beyond doubt after Barkley's misdirected pass back to Pickford could only find Depay, who set up Promes for an easy third.
It was almost a suspicious collapse so close to the end, although a nervy capitulation on England's part is much more likely:
Southgate's system encourages England to play the ball out from defence, but the tactic is more difficult to maintain to the same standard after 90 minutes. It's to be expected that legs and the mind grow weary after such strain, but England must be able to last such challenges if they're to contest major honours.
England falling down at a critical moment has been a familiar storyline for the country in recent times, and their Nations League exit harks back to the disappointing departures of old.