DORTMUND: When the bitter disappointment of Wednesday’s 2-1 semi-final defeat to England fades, the Netherlands will look back on a satisfying campaign at the European Championship after few gave them any chance of going so deep at the tournament.

The Dutch would surely have jumped at the possibility of a final-four placing if offered before the start of the tournament but after coming so close to the title decider defeat is hard to swallow, especially when it came so late in the game.

“We felt we were the better team in the last 20 minutes, but then the knockout blow came just before the end. England scored a great goal and then it’s over. That’s hard to accept,” said coach Ronald Koeman.

The Dutch, who have now lost each of their last four semi-final appearances at the Euros, were handed a blow before the start of the tournament with the loss of Frenkie de Jong.

The influential midfielder was injured in April but Koeman kept him in the squad to start with hoping his troublesome ankle might heal.

It did not. Fellow midfielders Marten de Roon and Teun Koopmeiners, both from Europa League winners Atalanta, were also injured weeks before the tournament.

But the Dutch still possessed enough quality to seal qualification to the knockout phase before losing their last group game to Austria, which dropped them to third in the standings but, ironically, handed them a more favourable draw.

That 3-2 defeat was followed by a week’s break before they met Romania in the round of 16 – ample time for some typical Dutch plain talking among staff and players that cleared the air and refocused energies.

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The resultant 3-0 win over Romania was a display of the team’s potential, admittedly against opponents who looked good in the first 10 minutes but offered nothing thereafter.

The Netherlands’ quarter-final match-up against Turkey was a much grittier assignment and they had to dig deep in the second half to forge a 2-1 comeback victory.

They finally met their match in the semi-finals against England at Dortmund’s BVB Stadion, where Ollie Watkins scored seconds into stoppage time for a 2-1 triumph.

“I think everyone can be proud of this team. This is also evident from all the supporters who supported us in large numbers. It’s been a great tournament,” added Koeman.

Cody Gakpo’s three goals confirmed he is best on the left side of the attack, while Nathan Ake, Denzel Dumfries and new first-choice goalkeeper Bart Verbruggen emerged with reputations enhanced.

All in all, the Dutch will be confident they have the makings of a side that could challenge again when the World Cup comes around in two years’ time.

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