England create history with dramatic Denmark win to set up Italy Euro 2020 final
It was inevitable if they were going to reach their first final in 55 years they were going to miss a penalty somewhere down the line. But thank goodness after Harry Kane saw his spot-kick saved he had the presence of mind of push the ball into the empty net.
Kasper Schmeichel – the hero here in the FA Cup for Leicester and again for Denmark tonight – was finally beaten.
And a rather tired England march on to Sunday’s final hoping to have time to rediscover the tremendous freshness they had brought into this game.
It used to be fashionable to pretend to play for England when kids kicked about with their friends after school.
Perhaps it will be again after this summer – the greedy squabble of European club football less of an attraction than the purer enjoyment of the international game that has been served up these past few weeks.
Either way, when you dreamt of playing football for England, you dreamt of playing the football the Three Lions hit Denmark with in an exhilarating opening 15 minutes.
Darting runs past hopeless half-hearted tackles; full-blooded but fair tackles to show early on who’s boss; and not being afraid to have a go at goal.
Raheem Sterling was inches away from converting Harry Kane’s delicious curling cross in only the sixth minute and soon afterwards his fourth direct run at the Danish defence caused chaos which was eventually cleared.
But this was Wembley, not the playground and there was a hideous reality check along the way.
For the first time in the tournament, England were beginning to make defensive mistakes. Simple passes went astray.
Jordan Pickford rolled the ball straight out to Mikkel Damsgaard.
A few tackles were mistimed. Luke Shaw untidily tangled with Andreas Christensen for no apparent reason 25 yards from goal.
Damsgaard stepped up and Pickford’s fingertips were not enough to keep it out of the top corner.
Southgate has preached all tournament about how the measure of his team has to b the way they bounce back from the mishaps football can throw at them.
So when Kasper Schmeichel somehow stopped Raheem Sterling from scoring from another brilliant Kane cross, the nation could be forgiven for sinking into another bout of semi-final what-iffery.
Then a minute later Bukayo Saka broke down the right, his cross hit Simon Kjaer and bounced into the Denmark net.
Wembley erupted. Nine minutes to get themselves out of their mess. Was this what Southgate had meant?
As it was, Denmark showed first in the second half, Damsgaard again testing Pickford and this time the Everton goalkeeper was equal to it.
At the other end, Harry Maguire had a header clawed away from just inside his post by Schmeichel.
Once again England seemed to be signed up for the full semi-final drama option and that would test Southgate’s next overriding theme of the summer.
Throughout his selections, the England manager has highlighted the importance of even those on the bench.
His “finishers” he called them, adopting the parlance more common in rugby.
It was Denmark who went first with their own triple substitution, but England’s bright array of options were stretching furiously all the while along the touchline.
Inevitably, it was Jack Grealish, fast anointed the playmaker of the people, who got the nod first. Wembley again showed its appreciation.
It was about now that the third of Southgate’s big summer sermons was scheduled to kick in.
The fact we have been here before and would be more experienced at dealing with the pressure situations.
Like being denied a penalty when Kane was sent sprawling in the box by Christian Norgaard – or not, as VAR agreed.
Like watching Kalvin Phillips’ low drive go just inches wide of the Denmark post.
England were indeed getting the better of it as extra-time loomed closer.
But after six minutes of frantic injury time, Kane failed to connect to Grealish’s cross in the last chance of normal time and Wembley was in for its second late night in as many days.
A school night, no less – which tees up Southgate’s fourth mantra rather nicely.
He had told them to rewrite their own history. So when Sterling was tripped and even when Kane missed his spot-kick, he was always going to knock in the rebound.
It turns out once again they were listening.
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