England are one step closer to ending 55 years of hurt after beating Denmark 2-1 in the semi-final of Euro 2020.
Harry Kane’s extra time goal from a hotly-disputed penalty gave Gareth Southgate’s team a nervy victory in front of an ecstatic Wembley crowd.
England will now face Italy in Sunday’s final back at Wembley for the chance to be crowned Euro 2020 champions.
Southgate made just one change from the team that comprehensively dispatched of Ukraine 4-0 in the quarter-final, recalling Bakayo Saka on the right side of the attack in place of the unlucky Jadon Sancho.
The Danes were competitive and resilient throughout, showing the quality and purpose that has been on display ever since Christain Eriksen’s devastating cardiac arrest in their opening game. They are playing for a cause, driven by a desire and dedication to their stellar attacker who came within minutes of losing his life.
It’s a story hard to beat. In any other game, England fans would have been rooting for the Danes.
Not this match, though, and the build-up to kick-off saw an electric atmosphere inside Wembley with Sweet Caroline and Three Lions blaring. From the off, England swarmed forward, using the fans and noise as extra motivation but Denmark held firm, came into the game and when Mikkel Damsgaard curled in a brilliant 25-yard free kick after Luke Shaw fouled Andreas Christensen, it was probably deserved.
England needed to respond, and they did, quickly. Sterling should have equalised, denied by Kasper Schmeichel from close range, but on 39 minutes they levelled thanks to a Simon Kjaer own goal, the defender turning in Saka’s low cross from close range with Sterling ready to pounce.
England had been nervy in the first period. Passes had gone astray, cheap fouls given away, and Jordan Pickford showed his Everton form rather than the assured displays for England that had seen him keep five clean sheets in the tournament.
The nerves weren’t much better after the break, though mainly among the 67,000-plus in the Wembley stands and millions more at home. Chances were few and far between, Schmeichel saving superbly from Maguire’s header, while England pressed late on but couldn’t fashion anything clear-cut despite Jack Grealish’s introduction.
Extra time. Could England finally do it. They huffed and puffed but it wasn’t the Danish defence that blew down, rather Sterling when after dancing into the box, he controversially went down under the faintest of contact.
The penalty was soft, but given the heartache and blows of semi-finals gone, few were complaining. Even then it needed another bit of luck, Schmeichel saving Kane’s penalty but spilling it back into the England captain’s path and he slotted home the rebound.
The rest of extra time was comfortable. Not as comfortable as the final 20 minutes of the Ukraine game, perhaps, but with relatively few alarms.
Roberto Mancini’s Italy now await in the final, possibly in front of 90,000 fans. The Italians, arguably the most impressive team throughout the tournament, saw off Spain in a high-class semi-final the previous night, though only after a gruelling extra-time and the drama of penalties. They will be rested and revived by Sunday, having an extra 24 hours of recuperation.
England will need to be at their very best if football truly is to come home.