Sometimes your luck is right there, you take a break when you need it most and, after so much heartache in the major tournament semifinals, England finally have something to do and, in the process , one of those suffocating high voltage encounters. follow suit.
The 90 minutes had been nerve-wracking, England were forced to come up with an answer to Mikkel Damsgaard’s stunning 25-yard free-kick at the half-hour, which they did when a cross from Bukayo Saka, intended to Raheem Sterling, was grouped on his own line by Denmark captain Simon Kjær.
With the battle lines drawn, England pushed in the second half of regulation time, but they couldn’t create anything clear. Denmark’s resistance was vigorous. But during extra time it finally happened, England only had the chance to win their second semi-final in six attempts and advance to a first final since the 1966 World Cup.
Obviously, it was Sterling who made it possible, his pace having worried Denmark from the first whistle. He sliced in the area and crashed under a challenge from Joakim Mæhle. Contact seemed minimal but Dutch referee Danny Makkelie felt it was enough to award the penalty and VAR agreed.
So there was Harry Kane, the epitome of on-the-go efficiency and, as everyone knows, he hardly ever misses. And yet he did it this time, his side kick read easily by Kasper Schmeichel, who got his hands on it. But the Danish goalkeeper, who had previously made good saves to outsmart Sterling and Harry Maguire, did not recover the ball. He simply pulled it out and, eyes shining with relief, Kane swallowed the rebound, exploding into the empty net.
Gareth Southgate would replace his replacement Jack Grealish for the second overtime with Kieran Trippier and go back to a three-way system and England got the job done. They will face Italy in the final on Sunday. The dream continues to shine.
England had come home after the quarter-final victory over Ukraine in Rome and it was one of those nights when emotion crackled from the first whistle. The energy of the stands in the round of 16 victory over Germany had been a thing of power and wonder and it was easy to feel that everything had skyrocketed here; even more supporters present, living every moment, each singing every song; the stakes even higher.
The Southgate players sought to harness the passion of the stands and they were center stage from the start, bursting with pace back and forth; Sterling showing he would support himself in any run and Kyle Walker as well. The speed of the full-back on cover was invaluable, especially when he choked out a high-forward first ball for Damsgaard.
When the pace was high in a frenzied 15-minute opening, England threatened with the clearest opening created for Sterling after Mason Mount found Kane and got it right. Sterling tore on the inside, freeing up space for a right-footed shot only to disappointingly scuff. There was also the moment when Kane fashioned a low cross from the right for Sterling only to put in a fraction too much.
Denmark’s history in these finals was framed by the trauma of Christian Eriksen, and it was a good idea from the Football Association for Kane to don an England shirt before kick-off with ” Eriksen 10 ”on the back. The episode brought a broader perspective, reminding everyone that this is only sport, when all is said and done; that human life is what really matters.
Denmark stabilized impressively after England’s initial flurry, with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg shooting only weakly and Kasper Dolberg seeing an effort deviate far after a poor clearance from Pickford. It would not be the only one of the goalkeeper, who betrayed nerves hitherto invisible.
Damsgaard proved to be a great substitute for Eriksen, all of his easy moves and sharp technique, and he came close with a curling effort to the far corner before knocking out Wembley with the deciding goal. The free kick was 25 yards, slightly to the left of center, and the whip and power that Damsgaard relied on was too much for Pickford, who instead waved as the ball passed him.
How would England react? Brilliantly, was the answer. Kane fell deep and wide and, from his cross in the 38th minute, Sterling would only have had to equalize to explode directly on Schmeichel. The Denmark goalkeeper came out with credit for his bravery.
England were not disheartened and Kane was at the heart of the movement that led to the parity, collecting from Walker and freeing Saka with a counting pass. Saka’s cross was aimed at Sterling and, even if he was a bit behind him, the attacker surely would have scored if Kjær hadn’t passed his own line in front of him.
The home side’s pre-match status as favorites had been pronounced, although Denmark was hardly outside the mold of Ukraine. They occupy 10th place in the Fifa world rankings, six places behind England, and beat them in this stadium last October. They married a taste for physical combat with intelligent movements and no lightness on the ball.
What was noticeable in the wake of Damsgaard’s goal was that Southgate urged his players to calm down, especially after Pickford sent a clearance straight to a red jersey. It was a test of their abilities but also of their composure and their handling of the game.
England moved closer at the start of the second half and, when Harry Maguire rose to guide a header from Mount’s free-kick to the bottom corner, the fans behind the goal were ready to burst. Schmeichel, however, crossed over to retrieve the ball to safety. It was a great stop.
The hosts attempted to make inroads down the flanks, their broad players working off the backs of Denmark’s outside center-halfs and Luke Shaw wobbling on the left-back overlap. The action pulsed in one direction then the other. It was a first-rate drama.