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Gary Neville singles out Gareth Southgate’s ‘illegal’ England choice vs Slovakia

Gary Neville urged Gareth Southgate to “rip up the script” after England went into half time 1-0 down against Slovakia in the Euro 2024 last-16, as the pundit said Trent Alexander-Arnold starting the knockout tie on the bench was “illegal”.

Neville called for the Liverpool right back to be introduced alongside Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer and said Southgate had to “intervene” to save England’s chances, but there were no changes at half-time.

Jude Bellingham’s stoppage-time stunner then saved Southgate’s England from an embarrassing last-16 exit as the Euro 2024 hopefuls fought back to win 2-1 after extra time.

A summer that promised so much looked set to end in heartbreak and humiliation for a team that went within a penalty shoot-out of winning the last edition three years ago.

Ivan Schranz put wily, well-drilled Slovakia on course for their biggest win as an independent nation, only for Bellingham to leave jaws on the floor and disbelieving players on the deck in Gelsenkirchen.

The midfielder’s overhead kick five minutes into stoppage time sent the match to extra time, with captain Harry Kane’s header seeing Southgate’s side through this tricky last-16 clash.

Switzerland await in the quarter-finals on Saturday and England will look to build on the spirit shown towards the end of a match that had looked set to end in a result akin to Iceland at Euro 2016.

England were booed by their fans in the Euro 2024 last 16 tie against Slovakia after falling behind in Gelsenkirchen as Southgate made just one change to the side that drew 0-0 with Slovenia to round off the group stages, with Kobbie Mainoo replacing Conor Gallagher in midfield.

But it was largely more of the same for England as another disappointing performance left their chances of winning the Euros on the brink. Southgate’s side fell behind to Schranz’s goal midway through the first half, as England’s defence parted and were split open down the middle.

And the Three Lions struggled in attack, too, as they once again looked slow in possession. There were boos from the stands as England passed the ball around the back. Southgate’s team also failed to have a shot on target, with Harry Kane, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka and Bellingham unable to click in attack.

Gareth Southgaten acknowledges England fans after victory over Slovakia
Gareth Southgaten acknowledges England fans after victory over Slovakia (The FA via Getty Images)

“This has got Iceland vibes written all over it, he’s got to interfere, he’s got to rip up the script,” Neville said. “He’s got to twist, one, two substitutes, Palmer, Trent and Gordon… He’s got to shift the whole narrative.”

Alexander-Arnold started England’s opening game against Serbia but was then hooked for Gallagher early in the second half of the second game against Denmark.

“It’s illegal that he’s not playing in this England game today,” Neville said. “He’s the best footballer at right-back we’ve ever seen in this country. He’s got to be on the pitch.”

England continued to probe as they sought a leveller that should have arrived in the 78th minute, but Kane somehow managed to head Foden’s free-kick wide.

Declan Rice hit a post from 25 yards three minutes later as the Euro 2020 runners-up plugged away for an equaliser that looked set to evade them as the match entered six minutes of stoppage time.

But in the fifth of those, a moment of magic sparked bedlam.

England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates with Jude Bellingham
England manager Gareth Southgate celebrates with Jude Bellingham (REUTERS)

Guehi held his ground under pressure and flicked on a throw-in, with Bellingham hitting a brilliant overhead kick past Martin Dubravka.

The strike got England out of jail and took a tie that looked beyond them into extra time, which was not even a minute old when they went ahead.

Eberechi Eze’s shot into the ground was smartly headed on by fellow substitute Ivan Toney and Kane nodded home at the far post in front of the England section.

Southgate’s side dropped back after scoring and dug in as exhausted Slovakia tried to find an equaliser, with Peter Pekarik threatening from close range just before the break.

England’s goalscorers were withdrawn and Slovakia could not find a leveller, with the final whistle bringing ‘Sweet Caroline’ and sweet relief.

Includes reporting from PA

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