Touching me, touching you. England are in their first final since 1966. At Wembley, against Italy. Drink it in. Who knows when we will pass this way again.
Gareth Southgate’s hoodoo breakers did it once more. Four consecutive semi-finals lost in extra-time. The fifth, won. When it was over the players and staff linked arms and sang Sweet Caroline as they stood in front of the small section of Wembley that houses family and friends Their loved ones.
They are the loved ones now, too, of course. The nation will love this. Love this team. Love what they stand for, what they represent. The resilience they showed, fighting back having gone a goal down. The bravery to win in a period of the match in which England teams have traditionally stumbled. Southgate let his emotion out, too. Walked to the noisiest section of the crowd, punching the air, clenching his fists, screaming at the top of his lungs. What a manager he is proving to be.
A yes man? Malleable? Don’t be soft. He brought fans’ favourite Jack Grealish on after 69 minutes, used him to run Denmark ragged and then, having got ahead, removed him at half-time of extra time for Kieran Trippier to shut the game down. That is a different form of courage.
The bravery to be unpopular, to be the scapegoat if it goes wrong. With seven minutes to go, Martin Brathwaite had a shot tipped round by Jordan Pickford. Had that gone in, Southgate would have known who his critics would hold responsible. He didn’t care. He did what he believed was right for the team. That’s what leaders do.
England are through to the Euro 2020 final after beating Denmark 2-1 in extra-time on an historic night at Wembley
Captain Harry Kane (right) scored with his rebound from after Kasper Schmeichel had saved his initial penalty
Kane’s penalty was poor but Schmeichel couldn’t hold on and he was quick to pounce on the rebound to fire into the net
Gareth Southgate couldn’t contain his emotion as he celebrated with the England supporters in the stands at Wembley
England’s players celebrate at full-time after booking their place in a major final for the first time since 1966
Delirious England fans celebrate wildly in the stands after Kane had put them within touching distance of the final
he England players gathered together for a rendition of Sweet Caroline as they celebrated with their supporters at full-time
Raheem Sterling was brought down by Joakim Maehle and referee Danny Makkelie pointed to the penalty spot
England (4-2-3-1): Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, Phillips, Rice (Henderson 94), Mount (Foden 94), Saka (Grealish 68, Trippier 105), Sterling, Kane
Subs not used: Coady, James, Ramsdale, Sancho, Mings, Bellingham, Rashford, Johnstone,
Goals: Kjaer (OG) 39, Kane 104
Denmark (3-4-3): Schmeichel, Christensen (Andersen 78), Kjaer, Vestergaard, Larsen (Wass 66), Hojbjerg, Delaney (Jensen 87), Maehle, Dolberg (Norgaard 66), Damsgaard (Poulsen 66) , Braithwaite
Subs not used: Lossl, Zanka, Cornelius, Ronnow, Skov, Wind, Skov Olsen
Goals: Damsgaard 30
Referee: Danny Makkelie (Netherlands)
And it paid off. England won. England are in the final. The end justified the means. Every decision to here can be defended on this simple outcome. That’s football and, at last, England are actually quite good at it. Pinch yourself and believe, because it is what this team and its manager deserves.
With hindsight, it is possible to say England’s victory was visible from some way out. Denmark had a very good spell in the middle of the first-half, and took the lead, but England were the better side across two hours and any other result would have been a travesty. More to the point, when Grealish came on it was because Southgate sensed Denmark were there for the taking, and he was right. They looked leggy, tired, as if their incredible tournament journey was nearing its end. By the end of the game, it was as if the Danes were just hanging on, trying to get to the penalty shoot-out that spins the wheel one last time – certainly in semi-finals against England.
As for England, they were home; they just couldn’t find the key to fit the door. Ultimately, though, the depth of talent in this squad is what got them over the threshold. The sheer number of gifted footballers this country can throw at a football match these days. This is not a golden generation, but it is a gem of a squad. So there was no let up for an exhausted Danish team. Grealish, then Phil Foden, arrived. Forces massed on the touchline, in case. England ran them, and ran them, and ran them. And finally, Denmark cracked.
Joakim Maehle lunged in, with tired legs, and brought down Raheem Sterling. Referee Danny Makkelie – destined to be the most popular official in this country since that Russian linesman – pointed to the spot. A VAR check confirmed his decision. Kasper Schmeichel thought it harsh, but then he always does unless its one of those tumbles that Jamie Vardy makes – and Harry Kane stepped up to the ball.
This is England, however. Nothing is straightforward. Kane has scored more goals against Schmeichel than any other goalkeeper, but if he has taken a poorer penalty in his life, it is hard to remember it. Good height for a goalkeeper, not near enough to the corner, Schmeichel – who had an outstanding game – was so early on it he pushed it out rather than round. And Kane was there first. Finished into the opposite corner, Schmeichel stranded. England’s joint top tournament goalscorer now, level with Gary Lineker. Scenes.
Denmark had taken the lead in the 30th minute when Mikkel Damsgaard hit an unstoppable free-kick into the top corner
Denmark’s players congratulate goalscorer Damsgaard after the winger’s free-kick silenced the England fans at Wembley
Damsgaard’s free-kick sailed into the top left corner with Jordan Pickford only able to get fingertips on the ball
England were level when Denmark captain Simon Kjaer turned Bukayo Saka’s cross into his own net in the 39th minute
England’s players congratulate Sterling and Saka after their roles in the equalising goal just before the half-time break
Kasper Schmeichel made a fantastic point-blank save from Raheem Sterling just before England scored in the first half
It’s going to be hard, the final. Harder than this? Probably. Italy are a better team than Denmark. Kasper Hjulmand’s team have had a brilliant tournament in the most testing circumstances, but Italy are arguably the best of it to here, England aside. For this is also a very good team.
Credit Sterling for never stopping the forward momentum; credit the XI for bouncing back after adversity in the 30th minute. And credit Southgate, too. This is his group, his men, and moulded in his determined image.
Harry Maguire pointed out in the week before this game that England had yet to be tested by going behind. How would they react? Last night we found out, and in the most pressured circumstances. Half hour, England went behind; 39th minute, England equalised. There’s the answer. It wasn’t all plain sailing, far from it. But in that spell, there was at least a clue about the nerve and resolve of this team.
Denmark are good. Ignore those who spout about England’s easy route. Denmark have given every team a game to here, including Belgium, the world’s number one. This was no exception. England started ferociously, as one suspects the Danes knew they would, yet couldn’t maintain such a tempo. Soon, they stopped looking after the ball and Denmark sniffed the wind and sensed change.
Too many sloppy passes, too much emotion, too many fouls. Denmark got the ball, slowed the game down. Denmark began dictating. For 20 minutes or so, they looked the better side. In the 25th minute, Mikkel Damsgaard – 21-years-old and playing for Sampdoria – cut inside from the left and struck a shot which curled just wide of the far post. That was the warning shot.
Schmeichel was there again to keep out Harry Maguire’s header in the second half with a big save to the bottom left corner
England were frustrated in the first half as Sterling was just unable to get on the end of Kane’s cross in the opening stages
Kane had a second half penalty appeal turned down as the striker went down under a challenge from Christian Norgaard
Southgate brought Jack Grealish on for Saka in the 68th minute as England looked for a creative spark to unlock the Denmark
Kane had a chance right at the end of the 90 minutes but miskicked the ball after Grealish laid it across to him in the box
England were conceding a lot of free-kicks now, and Denmark had worked on their set pieces. A favourite tactic was to cram as many players as possible into a tight space and then break off in all directions like a disturbed ants nest. Chaos reigned. After one, with players squeezed into a space so small they could have been captured by a medium-sized butterfly net, Luke Shaw tugged Andreas Christensen.
This brought another free-kick, further forward. Damsgaard stood over it. Statisticians had just noted that Pickford had broken Gordon Banks’ record of 720 minutes without conceding a goal, held since 1966. That’s what is called tempting fate.
Damsgaard could not have struck it better. It flew over a jumping Kane in the England wall – he didn’t even flinch – and into the top but not the corner, past a despairing Jordan Pickford. Should he have got it? He seemed to think so. It was the first free-kick goal of Euro 2021. The first England had conceded in the tournament and across 691 minutes of football. And, suddenly, it felt like of one of those nights.
Yet this England is made of sterner stuff, perhaps, then previous incarnations. The crowd’s faith may have wavered, but there was great self-belief in the way they achieved parity. In the 38th minute, a lovely cross by Kane was met by Sterling forcing one of the saves of the tournament from Schmeichel. Just 43 seconds later, England were level.
Ever wondered why Kane drops deep to take the ball to feet? Now you know. It was this manoeuvre that allowed him to slip Bukayo Saka in and his cross was turned into his own net by captain Simon Kjaer. Not his fault, entirely, though. Behind him lurked Sterling, who would surely have scored had he left it. It wasn’t Kjkaer’s night.
England’s captain had another effort saved by Schmeichel at the beginning of extra-time as he fired low at the near post
Gareth Southgate gave his England players a rousing team-talk as they prepared for another 30 minutes of football
Denmark’s players applaud the 8,000 Danish fans inside Wembley after falling agonisingly short at the final hurdle
Early in the second-half he was almost sparked out by Maguire jumping for a ball. It looked entirely accidental and Maguire had to be calmed down by former Leicester team-mate Schmeichel when Makkelie showed him a yellow card. Lucky, though. Before tournament booking amnesties were introduced that would have been a ban for the final.
By the 69th minute it was Grealish time. On for Saka, as expected, and immediately committing Denmark to risk-taking fouls, running at their defenders, inviting the rash and the panicked. Daniel Wass, also a substitute, was in the book within three minutes of arrival.
It may have been perplexing to see him withdrawn – the last England substitute this happened to in a competitive match was Aaron Lennon in 2006 – but Grealish did exactly as Southgate wanted. He tired Denmark, he challenged them when they were struggling to resist. He only lasted 42 minutes, including injury time, but it was key.
So, another milestone achieved, another curse lifted. Next up, the first final since 1966 and, for once, a good omen. England have never lost one of those.