‘Who else? Iconic Bellingham goal will go down in England history’

  • 5 hours ago

The clock timer inside the giant Arena AufSchalke had ticked around to 94 minutes 34 seconds when Jude Bellingham took to the air to produce an iconic moment that will take its place alongside the great England goals.

England had only 86 seconds to spare themselves from the humiliation of a defeat against Slovakia that would sit uncomfortably in the chamber of sporting horrors alongside the loss to Iceland at Euro 2016.

Failure to do so would surely have signalled the end of Gareth Southgate’s time as England manager – it may still come soon irrespective of their fate in Germany – and a wide-ranging inquest into everything surrounding a mystifying failure to show up at Euro 2024.

And then came Bellingham.

In a flash of genius that will be replayed and talked about for years, Bellingham took off in an audacious show of athleticism and individual skill to send a stunning overhead kick past Slovakia keeper Martin Dubravka.

Think David Platt’s acrobatic hooked finish in the last seconds of extra time against Belgium at this same last-16 stage of Italia 90. Think Paul Gascoigne’s left-foot flick over Colin Hendry and volleyed right-foot finish against Scotland at Wembley in Euro 96. Think the 18-year-old Michael Owen’s dazzling slalom run and finish into the roof of Argentina’s net in the last 16 at the France 98 World Cup.

Bellingham’s goal was at least the equal of those as he somehow found the agility to rise and get on the end of Marc Guehi’s headed flick after 90 gruelling minutes when he had again struggled to make his usual impact.

He turned away, appearing to mouth “who else?” to the joyous England fans. Who else indeed?

Bellingham celebrated his 21st birthday on Saturday and now he had given his own belated gift to those suffering, disgruntled England supporters.

England’s fans were betraying their feelings with silence in those closing moments, resigned to defeat while bracing themselves to dish out the toxic treatment that has become the soundtrack to their past two performances against Denmark and Slovenia.

Southgate’s name was even booed before kick-off when it was announced. England’s players were roundly jeered at half-time – and they would have known something much worse was coming had Slovakia closed out the win.

Instead, those same supporters can now say they were present to see one of the most dramatic goals and escapes in recent history, Bellingham’s goal England’s first shot on target and their latest strike in normal time at any major tournament.

It may have been 94 minutes 34 seconds of torture and torpor before but it was worth every second of the wait and more besides.

There was mayhem on the touchline among England’s substitutes and backroom team as Bellingham was swamped.

Its impact on Slovakia was instant and profound as their broken players slumped to the turf in the face of this magic, perhaps knowing that the battle was lost, as indeed it was when Harry Kane scored England’s winner early in extra time.

England were on the way out – and then they were on their way into a quarter-final meeting with Switzerland on Saturday in Dusseldorf.

Hardened neutrals let out gasps of astonishment as Bellingham turned away, leaving team-mates in his wake before adopting his trademark arms-outstretched celebratory pose. These are the moments the great players provide and everyone who witnesses them remembers.

Bellingham’s manager and team-mates formed an orderly queue to heap praise on him, their words a mixture of awe, delight and huge relief.

He had pulled them clear of the precipice with one of the finest goals scored by anyone in an England shirt, not just because it was a testament to his technique and natural gifts but because it came when the stakes were so high and the pressure at its height.

Kane put it in the top bracket when he said: “That was one of the best goals in our country’s history. What a player he is. He has kept our tournament alive. He works so hard for the team and in the big moments he steps up.”

Southgate told BBC Radio 5 Live: “With 15 minutes to go you wonder if he is out on his feet, but him and Harry Kane produce those moments and that is why you don’t make changes when people are clamouring for more changes.

“I’ve said for a long time he is doing unbelievably well. I think I understand his world better than a lot of people. His world is incredibly different.

“He’s had an incredible impact even though he is only a young man. He will say things and react to things like a young man will, but can create moments that change big games and that’s what he has done here.”

Declan Rice joined the chorus of praise, adding: “It was a big moment for a 21-year-old. It takes a lot of guts to do something like that. People don’t understand what you have to go through to get over the line.”

Former England defender Gary Neville added on ITV: “He is a special player and that goal has saved England from an incalculable amount of criticism that they have never seen before and he has saved his manager.”

England did not deserve the equaliser. They did not deserve to escape the embarrassment of the criticism that would have been heaped on them. Make no mistake, this was a shocking performance until Bellingham’s goal.

And yet, when you have players like Bellingham who do the special things in the big moments, games are never over until they are over. This was the prime example of what the world class can do.

The last word must go to the man of the moment Bellingham, as he admitted: “It’s got to be up there with my best goals – 30 seconds and we’re out of Euro 2024.

“It’s hard to deny it’s one of the most important moments in my career, but it’s only very important if we go on to win the tournament, so we’ll see in a couple of weeks.”

England have somehow stumbled their way into the quarter-finals in spite of themselves. But, with a player and personality such as Bellingham, capable of pulling off what he did here in Gelsenkirchen, then what has looked impossible so far could still be possible.

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