Just imagine if Gareth Southgate had gone through with the plan to bring off Jude Bellingham.

Imagine if Bellingham had been dropped completely from England’s starting line-up against Slovakia as Southgate faced calls to do.

What Bellingham produced – in a mesmerising moment of magic – is what Real Madrid fans have been cherishing all season.

And it is why Southgate trusted his judgement rather than the clamour for change – even resting Bellingham.

Just a day after his 21st birthday, the overhead kick was Bellingham’s own gift for the nation – saving the Euros campaign.

After watching from the substitute’s bench, Conor Gallagher said: “Buzzing like every single English fan. Incredible goal, incredible moment.”

Few moments in England’s history have been as dramatic as a 95th minute equaliser to keep the team in a tournament.

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And thanks to Harry Kane‘s header inside a minute of extra time it is onto the quarter-finals.

Kane and Bellingham have scored all of England’s goals at the tournament. Pic: AP

But had it not been for Bellingham’s brilliance they would have been packing their bags – and he felt the weight of responsibility as the ball came to him in the penalty area.

“You’re 30 seconds from going home, having to listen to all the rubbish, feeling like you’ve let a nation of people down,” Bellingham said.

“And in 30 seconds or in one kick of the ball everything can change. And it’s a feeling that I never want – I don’t like to be in – but when it’s done it feels great.

“So it’s a habit I’ve picked up from Madrid. Obviously my game’s improved a lot since I’ve joined, and I’m really grateful I could bring it to this game.”

Bellingham hugs his mum after the match. Pic: Reuters
Bellingham hugged his mum after the match. Pic: Reuters

Bellingham also scored in the opening match – sealing the 1-0 win over Serbia, also in Gelsenkirchen – while Kane netted England’s only goal in the 1-1 draw against Denmark.

With England held 0-0 by Slovenia in their final group game, their only goals have come from Bellingham and Kane.

It means no player from a Premier League club has, unusually, found the net for England; Kane is now with Bayern Munich and Bellingham with the newly-crowned Spanish and European champions.

‘You hear people talk a lot of rubbish’

Playing overseas has done nothing to remove the sense of expectation to end Three Lions’ wait for a first trophy since 1966 – or the clamour of the critics.

“Playing for England is an enjoyable feeling, but it’s also a lot of pressure,” Bellingham said.

“You hear people talk a lot of rubbish and it’s nice when you deliver. You can give them a little bit back.”

That explains why he appeared to bellow “Who else?” during his goal celebration.

“Scoring goals, celebrating is my release,” he said. “It was maybe a message to a few people.”

It was joy and relief at the whistle for England. Pic: Reuters
It was joy and relief at the whistle for England. Pic: Reuters

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Bellingham hopes the adrenaline can propel England to another final, having only been a teenager and making brief appearances at Euro 2020.

The pain of penalties in the final defeat to Italy still linger for England, followed by the 2022 World Cup exit at the hands of France in the quarter-final.

The performances so far in Germany have provided little belief to match England’s pre-Euros billing as a favourite for the trophy.

“Fans expect a lot from us, regardless of kind of what happened in recent tournaments,” Bellingham said.

“So people talk a lot and I think you do have to take it personally a little bit.

“We work so hard at this game. We come in and we train every day so hard to try and put on performances for the fans.

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Fans roar after England’s nail-biting win

“And sometimes it doesn’t go well and sometimes feels like there’s a bit of a pile on and, yeah it’s not nice to hear, but you can always use it.

“And for moments like that, it’s nice to kind of throw it back to some people, I suppose.”

And as England look ahead to playing Switzerland, the hope is that the resolve inspiring the comeback against Slovakia can be transformative for a team trying to emulate the women’s side by becoming European champions.

“You don’t experience things like that if you don’t have the adversity of the two draws, if you don’t have the adversity of going one-nil down,” Bellingham said. “It’s brilliant because it shows a reaction.”