Harry Kane’s goal in extra time saw England advance to the final of Euro 2020 thanks to a 2-1 win over Denmark at Wembley.
After being held in normal time by a resilient Denmark side, England were given a golden opportunity from the penalty spot when Joakim Maehle was judged to have brought down Raheem Sterling in the box, despite there being little contact. Kane’s initial penalty was saved by Kasper Schmeichel but the striker tucked home the rebound to send England through to their first major final since 1966.
Denmark had taken a shock lead in the semi-final when Mikkel Damsgaard’s free-kick from 25 yards flew past Jordan Pickford, but England responded well. Sterling saw a shot from close-range saved by Schmeichel before England equalised through an own goal from Denmark captain Simon Kjaer, who could not clear Bukayo Saka’s ball across the face of goal while under pressure from Sterling, who was closing in.
Schmeichel made a fingertip save to keep out a Harry Maguire header after half-time before Gareth Southgate turned to substitute Jack Grealish with the match still level, but England could not find the goal to prevent extra-time despite having control of the play.
Kane’s penalty gave England the advantage and the hosts held on to book a meeting with Italy at Wembley on Sunday.
Here are five things we learned...
England get a break as they are made to do it the hard way
The headline is this: England are into the final of a major tournament and have their best opportunity of winning a trophy since 1966, but that rather masks the stress and tension that supporters were made to go through over these nerve-shredding 120 minutes against Denmark.
In fact, it may even help England as attention now turns to the Euro 2020 final against Italy on Sunday. England’s 4-0 win over Ukraine in the quarter-finals was their biggest victory in the knockout stages of a major tournament in their history - but anyone thinking that this match against Denmark would go the same way were given a sharp wake-up call as Denmark battled.
Semi-finals are rarely straightforward and this was a night fraught with tension. The party atmosphere at Wembley quickly evaporated within 10 minutes when it became clear that Denmark were indeed as organised, spirited and competitive as they have looked throughout these Euros.
But this is how major tournaments are won, and in coming through this battle with Denmark, England have secured a victory which feels even more valuable than the 4-0 thrashing of Ukraine ever could. It wasn’t always pretty and it must be said that England's penalty should never have been given and, at least, should have been corrected by the VAR.
But England persevered and will have grown stronger as a result. They now face an Italy side who have come through extra time twice in reaching the final, and they will need every bit of tonight’s experience as they prepare to face the grizzled Azzurri in Sunday’s final.
Kane’s depth brings another dimension to England’s play
Harry Kane’s performances have been growing throughout these Euros and while the England captain was the match-winner against Denmark, it was his all-round play that really stood out.
It was benefitted, perhaps by the fact that Kane seemed to drop deeper in order to pick up the ball than he had done previously during the tournament. This was clear early on when Kane dropped into England’s own half to receive a throw in from Luke Shaw, before switching to Kyle Walker.
It also seemed to be a deliberate ploy to avoid a direct confrontation with Denmark’s back-three. Simon Kjaer and Jannik Vestergaard, in particular, are physical defenders but instead of playing on their toes, Kane often looked to drop into the space in front of them, as well as drifting out to the sides.
He created two chances for Sterling with his movement out to the right before he was heavily involved in the equaliser - dropping into hole before playing a superb ball around the corner for Saka. The movement from Sterling and Saka was perfect for Kane, who thrives when players make runs in behind, creating the space for him to play those passes from.
England show character after falling behind
If anything, it was the last unknown for Southgate’s side to face during these Euros: how would England respond if they fell behind? It was a situation England were yet to experience at this tournament, but after Daamsgard’s free-kick found the net, the Three Lions suddenly had to respond.
In fact, it looked as if it was exactly what they needed. England had fallen into a spell of sloppy play in the 20 minutes leading up to Denmark’s opener, but the goal, which could have led to a nightmare scenario, seemed to spark the Wembley crowd and the team back into life.
England went back on the front foot and created two quick-fire chances, both down the right side of the penalty box. Both fell to Sterling, first with Kane playing it square and then Saka getting around the outside before delivering a ball that was diverted in off Kjaer.
The impact of playing in front of a home crowd at Wembley cannot be overstated here and the England fans played their part in getting behind the team. But England’s response immediately after falling behind also spoke to the change in mentality that Southgate has helped oversee during his tenure.
England’s lack of control led to Denmark spells
Mikkel Damsgaard’s direct free-kick was the first of the tournament and was a stunning goal. But while it was a shock based on the pre-match predictions, it wasn’t a surprise considering the run of play over the course of the opening 30 minutes.
Denmark’s goal felt like it was coming even before Damsgaard stood over the free-kick and England had been on the back foot for at least 20 minutes leading up to the goal. England made such a promising start in front of a frenzied Wembley crowd, but their play quickly turned sloppy and gave Denmark a foot-hold. Denmark didn’t do anything special but it suited them that the game was untidy.
Southgate’s side may have recovered thanks to a calm response, but it was that lack of composure his team showed while Denmark were on top that will have worried the England manager - perhaps more than anything else he has seen so far at this tournament. It was also the central theme in the period of play that followed half-time, as the pace of play slowed down and England once again found themselves on the back foot.
What England lacked during those spells was a player who could put their foot on the ball and settle things down by playing a couple of simple passes. Instead, everything was rushed and it added to the anxiety and tension that at times spread around the stadium.
Pickford lapses add to tension at Wembley
Pickford has been rightly praised for his performances throughout Euro 2020 and his contribution in England keeping clean sheets in their opening five games of the competition, but his display against Denmark was a reminder of why there were questions over his status as England’s number one ahead of the tournament.
Criticism over his failure to save Damsgaard’s free kick seems a little harsh, although there are fans who would argue that the goal was preventable as the shot wasn’t in the corner.
But what was more concerning were a couple of lapses of concentration throughout the first half, as well as some stray balls that seemed to put England on the back foot. There was the inexplicable pass that went straight to Damsgaard, which resulted in Denmark’s first corner of the match.
The goalkeeper responded well after half-time, making a strong stop to deny Dolberg’s shot that was later given as offside, but what was clear was that when Pickford does have those lapses, the uncertainty seems to spread around the team and the crowd.
In contrast, the presence of Schmeichel in Denmark’s goal seemed to have the opposite effect for his side. He seemed to grow in stature with every save.
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