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How England rescued their Euro 2024 campaign with an overhead kick and a ‘time travel’ goal

The writing was on the wall for England and their head coach, Gareth Southgate.

A tournament marked by underwhelming performances was set to end in Gelsenkirchen, with a limp showing against the 45th best team in the world.

But then, Jude Bellingham stirred. In the space of three minutes and 17 seconds, England — and Southgate — were saved.

Was this the moment that changed everything?

England will certainly hope so. They say greatness is forged from adversity, but England were not in difficult circumstances when Bellingham took flight deep into stoppage time.

They were desperate.

Trailing 1-0 courtesy of Ivan Schranz’s first-half strike for Slovakia, England were essentially out of time. Six minutes of stoppage time had been added to the end of the match and four and a half of those had already elapsed.

The ball had bounced out for a throw-in on the England right flank. Desperate times called for desperate measures. For much of this tournament, England have laboured on the ball, lacking a clear playing identity. But all of that talk was irrelevant now. They just needed to find something, somehow, from somewhere.

So they resort to a good, old-fashioned long throw. One footballer chucking the ball with all his strength into the box with his hands, hoping for the best.

Kyle Walker was England’s honorary Rory Delap — a former Ireland international who made his name with a bullet throw for Stoke City in the 2000s — although he lacked Delap’s legendary distance.

His throw into the box would only just reach the six-yard box. England had seven players waiting in the penalty area, hoping it would land kindly.

It is defender Marc Guehi who makes the all-important first contact. He is being marked tightly, but his header turns a sub-par long throw into a good one. The flick-on keeps the attack alive.

Waiting around the six-yard box is first Ivan Toney, who is shielding another Slovakian marker, Norbert Gyomber. In doing so, he leaves space.

Bellingham then drifts away from his marker, Denis Vavro, as if guided by the hands of fate.

He takes that open space and the ball arrives slightly behind him. No matter. There is no hesitation from Bellingham, no second-guessing. No doubt.

This is a player who rises to the occasion and has done so time and time again.

This season alone, Bellingham has been a difference maker in stoppage time six times, either securing a win or equalising late for England (now twice) or Real Madrid (four times). This includes a stoppage-time winner against Barcelona in El Clasico, as well as a stoppage-time winner against Union Berlin in the Champions League — a goal that saw him become the youngest player to score a 90th-minute winning goal for Real Madrid in that competition and the youngest Englishman of any side to do so.

Playing for England invites a torrent of pressure that can deprive even the best in the game of their senses, but not Bellingham. His instinct was to attempt one of the most difficult techniques in the game at the most crucial junction of England’s tournament.

“Overhead kicks are a rarity in football and for that reason, it is the type of sequence or action that you rarely if ever train as a goalkeeper,” explains former goalkeeper Matt Pyzdrowski. “The moment of surprise alone is a big reason it can often feel like it’s a more difficult save for the goalkeeper to make. It’s not uncommon in these moments for the goalkeeper to be startled by the bravery and creativity of the striker to attempt such a magnificent shot that you get caught up in the moment and never really get yourself set or in the correct position to make the save.”

Bellingham needed no invitation to join the pantheon of England greats — Hurst, Platt, Beckham, Owen — by scoring in iconic fashion at a major tournament.

He lifts into the air, twists his body and throws his right leg at the ball.

He connects perfectly and redirects the ball into the ground and beyond Martin Dubravka — who otherwise had enjoyed a quiet evening.

This was England’s first shot on target in the entire game.

But England were alive.

“In desperate times we need desperate measures and great players try outrageous things,” said The Athletic columnist and former England international Alan Shearer. “Most times they fail, but for great players they work sometimes. To try that in such a tense moment and not be worried about the outcome says how great he is. It may just be the spark (England need).”

Bellingham runs away and can be seen shouting “who else” to the fans and to the cameras.

After being embraced by his grateful team-mates, he performs his iconic celebration, with his arms outstretched, alongside the captain Harry Kane.

“One of the best (goals) in our country’s history I reckon,” declared Kane to FOX. “What a player. He works so hard for the team. There’s been a lot of talk about him over the past couple of days, but he stepped up in the big moment. That’s what we need and he did that today.”

Kane, though, would have more to say in this game. The job was not yet done.

The match would trundle on until the 97th minute and then, the clocks reset. We travel back in time to the 90th minute for the start of extra time. Thirty more minutes of action to see whether the two teams could be separated before the looming threat of penalties — England’s kryptonite.

But England retain the momentum following Bellingham’s moment of brilliance. And again, it is a set play that helps them on their way.

Straight away, substitute Ivan Toney wins a free kick on the right flank and Cole Palmer takes it. The clock has reached 90 minutes and 45 seconds.

But Dubravka is commanding and punches the ball clear.

It falls to Eberechi Eze on the edge of the box, who tries to volley for goal but gets it wrong, so wrong that it inadvertently keeps the attack alive. His shot bounces into the ground and towards Ivan Toney, who had momentarily slipped but regained his balance. The Brentford striker had a hand in the first goal, but now he will take centre stage.

Toney heads the ball first time across goal, generating enough power to lift the ball over five players and leave goalkeeper Dubravka backpedalling. It is an inch-perfect header.

It is also a present for captain Kane. He heads the ball into the net as the clock hits 90 minutes and 51 seconds.

From despair at a dismal performance to relief and elation. England kept their Euro 2024 hopes alive with a defining spell lasting three minutes and 17 seconds. An equaliser in the 95th minute and a winner in the 91st. It might look odd on scoreboards, but no England fan will care.

Looming post-mortems were put on ice. Southgate’s side laboured throughout their encounter with Slovakia and they will know that they simply have to improve if they are to go further in this tournament. The talent within their squad demands performances of better quality and relying on moments of inspiration will surely not be enough to beat tougher opposition.

But for the faults of this encounter, it will still be a game that evokes fond memories. This was also the match where Bellingham etched his name into the collective memory. In doing so, he gave his coach a stay of execution. But who knows, this may also be the match that sees England turn a corner.

“I had belief right the way through that we would get that goal,” said Southgate. “I didn’t think it would come that late, but I wasn’t ready to go home yet and the players clearly felt the same.”



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(Top photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

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