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‘We have to accept this is England’s identity’

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England are into the quarter-finals of Euro 2024 and ultimately that is all that matters but, for 95 minutes, that was a desperate performance against Slovakia.

I was watching it thinking it was Iceland and Euro 2016 all over again, because we were just as bad as we were in that embarrassing defeat, but then Jude Bellingham has saved us with a world-class finish.

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Up until then, we had been awful. You never give up hope in any game when you are only 1-0 down, but there were next to no signs that we were going to find an equaliser from anywhere until that piece of brilliance. The feeling was pure relief.

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That was the first shot we had on target, which is a dismal statistic when you consider the quality of our players and the level of opposition that we were up against, but it was the one that mattered.

When Harry Kane got another goal to put us ahead – with our only other shot on target of the 120 minutes, by the way – you are thinking ‘go and finish the game off’ but instead we sat back straight away, and came under huge pressure.

It was another hard watch from then on until the final whistle. No-one wants to see us drop deep like that, but we have to accept that is the way Gareth Southgate wants us to play.

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The evidence is there now that this is who we are, and this is our identity in major finals.

Everyone is crying out for him to give us some attacking football, but his England side have played like this in previous tournaments too – and it got us to the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020. He is not going to change now.

The spark England were waiting for?

The biggest positive to take away from Sunday’s game is that England found a way.

Knockout football is just about getting through to the next round regardless of your performance and somehow – I still don’t know exactly how – we have done that.

In four games and close to 400 minutes on the pitch at this tournament, we have not played well other than for the first half-hour of our opening match against Serbia.

But the thing in all four of those games is that there has always been a ‘but’ along with how poor we have been, and the big ‘but’ now is that we have won and are into the last eight.

Of course we can still do much better that this in every area, but maybe Bellingham’s goal is the spark this team have been looking for.

You always know moments like that can change the whole mood of a tournament because it has happened to England before.

As well as Paul Gascoigne’s brilliant goal against Scotland at Euro ’96, the best example is probably David Platt’s last-gasp winner against Belgium at the 1990 World Cup, which was the moment England started playing.

For that to happen here too, Southgate will surely have to make some changes. It is not working out for Phil Foden on the left, the same way as trying Trent Alexander-Arnold and then Conor Gallagher in midfield did not work either.

I was screaming for Cole Palmer and Anthony Gordon to be brought on at half-time against Slovakia, but we had to wait until the 65th minute for Palmer to get on and Gordon did not get a chance at all.

Whoever plays against Switzerland on Saturday, though, we will have to up our game significantly because the Swiss will be without a doubt the best team we have faced so far.

The three teams we faced in our group, Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia, were all stubborn and did not pose much of a threat, but England’s defence was shaky whenever Slovakia came at us in the first half.

The Swiss will be well-organised again, just with more quality and carrying more of a threat. They have been one of the best teams at these Euros so far, and after coming close to beating Germany they absolutely outclassed Italy.

If we play as badly as we did in the first 95 minutes against Slovakia, then the same could happen to us.

To avoid that, England need to learn their lesson about what has gone wrong so far and ensure it does not happen again.

If we go on to win this tournament then no-one will care about what happened in our first four games or how poor we were, but we are going to have to improve massively to even get close.

Alan Shearer was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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