In the moments just after the most jubilant of victories, Harry Kane went over to salute the crowd behind the goal, only to realise something bigger was going on. Some of the staff were the same. The players and extended squad had gathered near the halfway line for a collective rendition of “Sweet Caroline”.
It was touching. It was joyous. It was something few had ever seen with England before. There was almost an innocence to it so far removed from the indulgence of the golden generation, the angry inquests into so many failures.
You couldn’t have a better picture of what Gareth Southgate has done with this team. The man himself had never seen anything so good – pun on Neil Diamond’s famous line unintended – at this stadium.
“I’ve never known the new Wembley like this,” Southgate enthused afterwards. Few have known an England team like this.
The spirit of togetherness was illustrated by one little exchange after the game. Jack Grealish is one of a number of players who could have been slightly put out, given how he was put on, and then taken off.
There are some in football who consider that a huge insult, even if that would never have been the case with Southgate. There is still the danger a player reacts in the wrong way, but not here.
When Southgate went to explain his decision to Grealish, the forward had the best response possible. “Gaffer, it doesn’t matter. I’m not bothered. We’ve got to the final!”
That glorious simple fact is something worth reflecting on and celebrating, even if it is entirely natural to immediately start wondering about winning that final. To just be in it is a real feat, though. It fully signals England’s return to the peak of the game. It is the level they were long desperate to reach, and so eluded them.
They have finally been able to go the distance in a tournament, ensuring Southgate and his squad are part of a highly distinguished group. That was also because this team were able to do more than go the distance in the game.
The contrast in energy between England and Denmark became so notable long before the end. That is down to more than the fact Southgate’s side have played most of their games at home, or the fact Denmark travelled so much more.
It is also where we are seeing the real advantage of the strength of that squad, why it really matters. It is not just about the “best XI”, which was such a point of focus before Euro 2020 began. It is that it allows Southgate various strong XIs, to suit almost any situation.
That’s also why the debate over Grealish has been someway misplaced. Southgate didn’t quite show why he has been reluctant to use him as much as people wanted, in the way he hauled him off, but instead displayed the rationale behind his selections. Southgate needed to pick a slightly different option for the circumstances.
“We needed to keep pressure on at the front but to have the numbers there to deal with the balls with the box,” Southgate said. “Raheem [Sterling] was so difficult to play all night it was going to have to be Phil or Jack to come off. Jack has totally understood it.
Imagine how deflated some exhausted Danish defenders must have been when they saw just another fresh England star come on. In this case, it was Kieran Trippier. He ended up offering more defensive solidity than Grealish is ever supposed to. He made a key difference as England saw out the game.
It all ensured wave after wave of talent, wave after wave of attack.
This was something else that is different about this England. They didn’t recede, or suffer the “slow death” that Southgate had noticed in his studies of so many past knockouts. This team instead offered a sense of life, and then a true celebration.
“They can see what it’s meant to the whole country tonight and what it’s meant to the fans in the stadium,” Southgate beamed.
It means the final. It means a new level. It may yet mean even more.
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