Euro 2024 rivals England and Netherlands share one thing: historical pain

DORTMUND, Germany — Despite how it sometimes feels, England doesn’t actually have a monopoly on pain and disappointment sustained in major soccer tournaments.

Sure, the Three Lions haven’t won anything since the team’s sole triumph at the 1966 World Cup, but there are other countries that have suffered as much, or even more, in the pursuit of soothing age-old wounds.

Heading into Wednesday’s Euro 2024 semifinal (3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX sports app), you don’t have to look too far to find one.

The Netherlands, coached by Ronald Koeman and boasting stars like Cody Gakpo, Memphis Depay and Virgin van Dijk, is also trying to put right past despondencies.

“Hopefully we will make our dream come true here,” Van Dijk told reporters after Saturday’s quarterfinal victory over Turkey. All too often, that dream has turned into a nightmare.

The Netherlands has lost in three World Cup finals, the first two of which came in 1974 and 1978, when a golden generation spearheaded by Johan Cruyff’s brilliance lost to the host nation (West Germany and Argentina) in consecutive finals.

When the 2010 team also finished as runner-up, losing to Andrés Iniesta’s 116th-minute winner for Spain, it put the Dutch in an unwanted category of their own. No other nation has lost three World Cup finals without winning one.

Things haven’t gotten much rosier since. In 2014, there was a defeat to Argentina on penalties in the semifinals and, in 2022, the same result to the same opponent, in the quarters.

UEFA Euro 2024 Semi-Finals Gambling Guide | Bear Bets

UEFA Euro 2024 Semi-Finals Gambling Guide | Bear Bets

Like England, the Netherlands has one major tournament title to its name, the 1988 Euros. That was a remarkable year for Koeman as a player, as he helped PSV Eindhoven win the European Cup before playing a pivotal role for the national team’s triumph just weeks later.

In the Euros tournaments that followed, there were more close calls. At times, different iterations of the Dutch team has looked unstoppable in the early part of tournaments, only to fall apart later. 

Led by Patrick Kluivert’s goal-scoring form, they were arguably the best team at Euro 2000, which the Netherlands co-hosted with Belgium. The team outplayed 10-man Italy in the semifinal, but missed two penalties in regulation and three more in a shootout to crash out.

The 2008 squad was also outstanding, romping through the Group of Death by thrashing Italy and France and scoring nine times, but came undone in the quarters, upset by Russia.

This is closest they have gotten at this tournament since then. But even with a surge to the last four, much like Gareth Southgate with England, few back home have been impressed. 

Third place in Group D ultimately led to an easier section of the draw, but that didn’t stop Koeman from being asked after the defeat to Austria whether he would consider resigning his position.

Things improved in a comfortable win over Romania in the round of 16 and a strong fightback from a goal down against Turkey, after which the coach bristled at his critics.

“There are no small countries in football anymore,” Koeman said, in response to suggestions his group were fortunate to avoid the stacked opposite half of the bracket.

 “We shouldn’t think we haven’t had a big opponent yet because I find that disrespectful. Also to Turkey.”

[Related: Lionel Messi called him a ‘fool’ — but Wout Weghorst’s smart play boosts the Netherlands]

Southgate routinely points out the hypocrisy in how England is burdened with the loftiest of expectations despite its relative lack of success in major events.

His tactics don’t always scintillate, but the reality is that by making Wednesday’s semi, he has now taken the squad to this stage in three of its last four tournaments.

The England coach has said he feels like he has a lonely and unique job, what with the level of pressure, intensity of the public glare, and the ever-present feeling that there is a need to atone for past disappointments.

For once, on Wednesday, he might feel he is in familiar company.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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