It took 55 years of struggles and suffering and disappointments and disasters. But England is nearly there now.
England beat Denmark, 2-1, in extra time in the semifinals of the European Championship on Wednesday, advancing — with a bit of luck — to its first major final since the 1966 World Cup.
The winning goal came from striker Harry Kane, who converted the rebound of his own saved penalty kick to break a 1-1 tie midway through extra time. Denmark had vehemently protested the penalty, contending that England’s Raheem Sterling had dived to win it. But the referee disagreed, and the video-assistant referee system in place for the tournament declined to overturn the call.
Staked to that slim lead just before the start of the second 15-minute overtime, England sent on an extra defender and hunkered down to seal its biggest achievement in 55 years.
The 1966 final, which produced England’s only world title, has hung over generations of England’s teams and players, an achievement they could never quite match, no matter how much talent it sent out to chase it. Many of the members of the current team had hoped to put it behind them in 2018, but they lost in the semifinals of the World Cup in Russia.
This time, as they did in 1966, England was playing on home soil. And with a pandemic-limits-breaking crowd of 64,950 roaring its approval, this time they got over the hump.
A tenacious and talented Italy, which beat Spain in the other semifinal, awaits on Sunday at Wembley. But that job, for now, can wait.
Another test with a lead ball to Kane, but now even he looks beat. Almost there now for England ……..
Henderson breaks up an attack, feeds Sterling and he and Kane break out. But when the attack falters, Kane smartly cycles it back out and England goes into time-wasting mode.
England with five at the back now — Shaw, Maguie, Stones, Walker and Trippier — fronted by Henderson and Phillips. Sterling and Foden are trying to play both ways above them, but this is most definitely a see-this-out formation.
Kieran Trippier, the Atlético Madrid right back, comes on to toughen up the defense for Southgate. But he replaces … Grealish? The second-half sub? Unless Grealish is hurt, that feels a bit brutal, and potentially unpopular.
But if England wins, maybe no one will care.
There’s the whistle for the end of the first extra period. The stadium is absolutely boiling with joy.
It took him two tries, but he raced to the rebound of his first shot and slotted it home.
England leads in extra time, 2-1.
The penalty attempt, sent to Kane’s right, was saved quite easily by Schmeichel, diving to his left. But he palmed the rebound right out in front of him, and Kane, charging with a striker’s instinct, slammed it in the open goal.
The call stands! PENALTY! Kane will take it.
PENALTY!!! Has Sterling just dribbled England to the brink of victory? Maehle and Jensen collided with him, but he sure went down easy.
V.A.R. check ……..
Denmark has dropped everyone behind the ball and shifted to a strategy of “Anywhere but here” every time it gets close enough to the ball to kick it long.
But every time, England just comes back. They’re like the tide now.
Three good chances for England out of one corner: a Foden cross results in a header right at Schmeichel. The clearance falls to Foden, who dishes to Grealish, who drives a ball right at the goalkeeper. It, too, is saved, and Sterling gets the third chance. But after settling himself into a tiny bit of space, he fires well high and wide.
It may not be coming home, but it sure feels like a goal is coming soon.
A pair of England changes: Jordan Henderson for Declan Rice, and Phil Foden for Mason Mount. Both like-for-like changes, but Foden brings a bit of attacking danger that says, “We want to win this now.”
Another diving, fingertip save from Schmeichel on a shot from a narrow angle on the right. The ball lingered, tantalizingly, in the open grass in front of the goal as he scrambled to his feet. But one of his defenders won the footrace to it, and cleared the danger.
Great chance. Great save.
England’s Southgate still has some cards to play, if he wants to. (As we wrote, Denmark made five subs in regular time, and England only one.) He surely will have to at some point.
The teams now will play two 15-minutes periods, followed by a penalty-kick shootout if they can’t settle it before then.
Almost as soon as we begin, though, the referee stops play, jogs to the sideline and sends a message to the UEFA delegate there. Strange moment, and no obvious clue what it was about.
Whew. We are going to extra time at Wembley, but not before England peppers the Denmark defense with a few last shots. Kane had the best of them, off a Grealish cross, but couldn’t control it and turn it toward Schmeichel.
So settle in, we’ve got at least 30 minutes more. Not sure either team wants them.
90 + 4’
Sterling breaks in on the right — twice — and cuts back for Grealish. But Kane cuts off the ball, to Grealish’s dismay, and then stumbles a bit before shoveling it out to Phillips. His “shot” lands somewhere in East London.
Six minutes of injury time coming. Denmark is just holding on now, though it has five sets of fresher legs.
England has used only one sub, Grealish, but then his presence counts for five in karma alone in the eyes of England fans.
Delaney is off, Hjulmand’s last change in regular time.
“Denmark looks absolutely exhausted,” Rory writes. “This is making me a hostage to fortune, but I’d be staggered if this goes to penalties.”
Another England free kick, another header wide. John Stones got his noggin on this one.
Christensen, who received treatment when the other subs were made earlier, is down again. This time he’s done. Joachim Andersen replaces him.
He will now score a world-class own goal or something, but Thomas Delaney has been quietly, grittily, cynically, smartly, efficiently excellent tonight.
— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) July 7, 2021
The announced crowd of 64,950 at Wembley today is — quite uncomfortably — in violation of the limits on the stadium’s capacity. Whoops.
Penalty? England sure thinks so after Norgaard, the fresh sub, clatters down Kane as he crosses into the penalty area.
It goes briefly to V.A.R., as all potential penalty decisions do these days, but they defer to the referee’s decision. Play continues.
Jack Grealish is up and the crowd is sensing it. If we have learned one thing this month it is that England fans loooooooooooove Jack Grealish.
Saka is the player sacrificed to the people’s will.
England have a head of steam now. Pattern of their tournament, generally, has been 15/20 minute surges, rather than sustained pressure. Denmark going to have to weather it a bit.
— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) July 7, 2021
OK, now we get the changes. Wass comes on for Stryger on the back line, Damsgaard does in fact give way for Poulsen, and Christian Norgaard comes on for Kasper Dolberg.
Dolberg had been Denmark’s leading scorer but he had a quiet day today. Poulsen will take his position, surely, and bring quite a bit of pace to potential counterattacks.
The hour mark brings the first changes, and it looks like Damsgaard, the Denmark goal scorer, is coming off for Yussuf Poulsen.
Oh no, wait: He’s stayed on. This is strange. There are three Danish subs waiting.
Woof: another near own goal for Denmark there after Sterling holds up play and then leads an overlapping Shaw to the end line. His cross is a good one but bangs off a Danish leg, and across a gaping open goal, before it is collected and turned into safety on the other side.
The reverse angle on the Schmeichel save is even better.
England responds almost immediately, winning a cheap free kick from Denmark and with Mount lofting in a cross for Maguire. His header is going in before Schmeichel dives to his right to paw it away. Terrific save, and a terrific chance.
Dangerous cross from Denmark there after they walked the ball up the field with about a dozen 10-yard passes, but Pickford charges out to punch away the danger.
Play resumes after the foul and the treatment on Kjaer and Maguire is still HOT at the injustice he perceives here. But he’s on a yellow now, and may want to cool it.
Mount and Saka stand over a free kick on the right sideline. These all suddenly feel more fraught with opportunity after what Damsgaard did.
This one ends with a yellow card for Harry Maguire, who arrived like the Kool-Aid man — and his elbow raised — when he slammed into Kjaer to meet the cross.
Maguire seems annoyed at the implication that a big English defender should not be allowed to arrive as big English defenders are taught to do in such moments, but they are wiping some blood off the forehead of Kjaer, the Denmark captain.
We are back underway. No lineup changes for either team, but the cameras did catch Damsgaard giving a wink and a smile to someone (maybe on England’s side) who said something to him just before kickoff.
Our one-word analysis is: phew.
More of that please in the second 45.
The first goal deflated the Wembley crowd, but the second has revived it. The singing is back, and the game has taken on a new life.
England is, in its own way, trying to calm things down, a sign that they are confident they can find another goal here somewhere.
GOAL! An own goal ties it for England.
With both teams buzzing in some rare end to end, England breaks and Saka sends a cross in from the right toward Raheem Sterling at the back post.
But it never gets there: a sliding Kjaer turns it into his goal, and it’s 1-1.
Mikkel Damsgaard turns the game, the expectations — everything — on its head with a gorgeous free kick from comfortably outside the England penalty area.
His right-footed shot swept over a narrow England wall and under the crossbar, leaving Pickford — still basking in the glow of his shutout streak — no chance.
And just like that, Denmark leads, 1-0, its bench is losing its collective mind, and the Wembley crowd is worried that it might — might — not be coming home yet after all.
That is the first goal England has allowed in the tournament.
Brilliant free-kick, obviously, but such a stupid, cheap goal to give away: for Shaw (I think) holding onto A Danish Player at a much less dangerous set-piece. He was holding him for about 30 seconds. The ref was watching it happen.
— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) July 7, 2021
Or not. GOAAAAAAAAAAAAL Denmark!!!!
That is now 722 minutes without a goal for England’s Jordan Pickford, a streak that breaks a record held by the England legend Gordon Banks.
Every minute now will add to it, and he’s almost certain to hold it for a generation or more from this point.
Mikkel Damsgaard fiddles around a bit at the top corner of the England penalty area before spinning away and curling a shot to the far corner of Pickford’s goal.
It goes oh so close to spinning in, and, quietly, that might have been the best chance of the day — all out of nothing.
Denmark wins a free kick on the right and launches a ball so aimless that players on both teams spin in a circle trying to find it before it lands, harmlessly, well behind them in the penalty area.
That was straight off the training ground, as they say, but only if the training ground held a bad high school team.
Now it’s England’s turn to be scared. Jordan Pickford drops a simple clearance right onto the foot of a Danish attacker and within seconds is diving to make sure a sudden shot rolls wide.
He then springs back up and taps his chest in the international sign for, ‘Boy that was dumb and allllllll my fault.’
Same as last night, please: both teams to score in front of their own fans.
— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) July 7, 2021
Sterling lets out another gust of ‘oh-man-that-was-close’ after another opportunity goes awry.
Ten minutes in and England leads Denmark easily in low whistles and narrow misses. They’re really pressuring the Danes here.
An early scare for Denmark as Kalvin Phillips feeds Kane out on the right, and he fires a ball across the face of goal. It rolls out, though, just out of reach of the wide-open Raheem Sterling.
We are underway, and England quickly goes in hard on a couple of tackles. They are riding the crowd’s energy.
England’s players take the knee, and the Danes applaud them. And we’re about ready to go.
England’s captain, Harry Kane, presents his Denmark counterpart, Simon Kjaer, with an England shirt with Christian Eriksen’s name on the back. The Danes will have a collection of those by now; every team has repeated the gesture since Eriksen’s collapse in Denmark’s opener.
But it may feel more special for Kane than most: He played with Eriksen for several years across London at Tottenham.
The teams are out of the tunnel, and the fans have — thankfully — stopped singing for a moment.
Nothing illustrates the sheer, unrivalled power of football than tens of thousands of mostly grown adults belting out Atomic Kitten with both no shame and genuine pride.
— Rory Smith (@RorySmith) July 7, 2021
While the increased capacity at Wembley — about 60,000 fans are expected, about the same as Tuesday for Italy-Spain — has ensured a pro-England crowd, Denmark is represented by about 8,000 flag-waving, England-based supporters behind one of the goals.
A full-throated version of “God Save the Queen” though, by players and fans alike, leaves no doubt about which team the people have come to see.
England wears its years of hurt on its backs.
It has been striking, whenever England fans have gathered over the course of the last month, how many have eschewed the current iteration of the national team’s jersey and chosen instead an older number: most frequently a blue one, flecked with white, that served as backup to the backup in the early 1990s, and an effort from soccer’s “gray period,” when the overriding logic ran that the color looked good with jeans.
Strictly speaking, both shirts are associated with unhappy memories: the semifinal elimination by West Germany at the 1990 World Cup and the semifinal elimination by a united Germany six years later in the European Championship, both on penalties. But the jerseys are also proof of credentials, proof of authenticity, proof of having shared in the suffering of the two defeats which best define the inevitable and yet somehow cherished disappointment of being an England fan.
Even as the country has slowly allowed itself to be swept away — a cliff giving itself to the sea — over the last three weeks, as the prospect of only the second major final in its never-knowingly-undersold history has reared up ever higher in the popular imagination, some of that spirit has remained.
There is, deep down, a sort of irony to England’s excitement, an awareness that this will probably all go wrong at any minute, an expectation of the worst even as the country hopes for the best, that at some point in the future a new generation of fans will be wearing this year’s away jersey to prove that it, too, has suffered.
And yet this is, without question, the best chance the country has had for half a century not just to make a final, but to win a trophy. It is on home turf. It is, on paper at least, more than a match for an exceptionally well-drilled, impressively slick Danish team, just as it was better equipped than Ukraine and Germany in previous rounds. It would be favorite in a final even against a young and spirited Italy.
There is a distinct possibility that this excitement does not have to be ironic, that things will not go wrong. But that is not how England thinks, not really. All those years of hurt have conditioned the country to dream, but never truly to believe. Beat Denmark and that, perhaps, will have to change.
England makes one change to its starting lineup to face Denmark, restoring the 19-year-old Bukayo Saka (who had a minor injury ahead of the quarterfinals) and dropping Jadon Sancho to make room for him.
No reason for Gareth Southgate to change anything else, really. Not with the way his team has been playing. But expect much hand-wringing over the change on English Twitter.
England’s starting XI:
Jordan Pickford; Kyle Walker, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw; Kalvin Phillips, Declan Rice; Bukayo Saka, Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling; Harry Kane
No surprises for Denmark, either. Coach Kasper Hjulmand sticks with the same XI he sent out for the victory against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals:
Kasper Schmeichel; Andreas Christensen, Simon Kjaer, Jannick Vestergaard; Jens Stryger Larsen, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Thomas Delaney, Joakim Maehle; Martin Braithwaite, Kasper Dolberg, Mikkel Damsgaard
Christian Eriksen has been on the minds of many in Denmark since he collapsed face-first to the turf during his team’s opening game at Euro 2020. Returning to Wembley on Wednesday brought new emotions.
Eriksen knew the stadium well from his days at Tottenham Hotspur, and he scored a penalty kick there last October when Denmark beat England, 1-0, in a UEFA Nations League game.
“I’ve talked to him and I’ve told him so many times that I think about him,” Denmark Coach Kasper Hjulmand said. “Even when we got in here, I thought that we would play at Wembley and at his old stadium.
“So he is with us. And we still play for him, there is no doubt about that.”
Eriksen and some of the paramedics who saved his life when he collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during a first-round game against Finland have been invited to Sunday’s final at Wembley. While at least one of the medics said he would go, it is unclear if Eriksen, who has been recuperating at home, will be there.
“I hope that if he comes to the final that we are going to be playing it,” Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand said. “It would be amazing.”
LONDON — British newspapers called for their “heroes” to roar, while the BBC wondered throughout the day whether England could “make history.”
A win over Denmark at Euro 2020 on Wednesday would take England to its first final of a major soccer tournament in more than half a century, and that prospect has raised hopes that the nation — which loves to boast about inventing the sport of soccer — might not be positioned to stand atop it again.
On Wednesday, tens of thousands of fans arrived at Wembley Stadium for the match, and pubs and bars and streets were filling across England, even as the authorities urged fans to respect restrictions in place for the coronavirus pandemic.
“Today is the day,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson — not an avid soccer fan usually — wrote on Twitter. “Come on England!”
In England, the Three Lions, as the national team is sometimes known, have gained widespread popularity for what the players represent, an impressive and diverse squad of top players from the nation’s best clubs. They have taken the knee against racism before games, and served as a unifying force in a country that Brexit and recent elections have left deeply divided.
“The prize is one that we’ve never experienced,” England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “We don’t have as good a footballing history as we like to believe sometimes.”
The Danes have noticed. Denmark also has high hopes on Wednesday, and plans to reach its second final in the Euros since it stunningly won the tournament as a last-minute replacement in 1992.
So forgive its players if they don’t want to hear about how the trophy may be “coming home.”
“Has it ever been home?” Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel said wryly to a British journalist who asked about the phrase on Tuesday. “I don’t know, have you ever won it?”
Like England, Denmark has begun to believe it has fate on its side. The Danes lost their opening two matches at Euro 2020, but defeated Russia to advance out of their first-round group and then beat Wales and the Czech Republic in the knockout rounds.
“It’s very difficult to quantify it,” Coach Kasper Hjulmand said. “I think we were in a very, very good position when we started the tournament, we were well prepared.”
Rory Smith previewed Italy on the eve of the tournament because it had pledged to arrive with an entirely new vibe: one built on fun, and bolstered by defensive organization, instead of the other way around. And for five games, Italy provided just that.
But when Rory caught up with Italy at Wembley on Tuesday, he found it reached back into its past just when it needed to do so.
Italy has not played to stereotype these last three weeks. It arrived at Euro 2020 in a curious position: unbeaten in 27 games, a run stretching back a couple of years, but not among the pack of favorites. France, England, Portugal and Belgium were all under considerably more pressure. Whatever happened, its coach Roberto Mancini vowed that it would be “fun.”
He was as good as his word, for those first forays at least. Turkey, Switzerland and Wales were swept aside, imperiously, on home territory in Rome. Austria was, eventually, overpowered in the round of 16. A brilliant spell of 15 or 20 minutes took Mancini’s team past Belgium, officially ranked as the world’s best side. This was Italy stripped of the stress of expectation, and imbued with freedom.
But it was not that sense of adventure, that freshly inculcated and deliberately nurtured spirit of gioia di vivere, that allowed Italy to take the final step. Spain, even an iteration of Spain that remains a work in progress, was always likely to require a display of what might diplomatically be called more traditional Italian virtues: obduracy and indomitability, organization and guile, gritted teeth and strained sinews.
It may yet rank as Mancini’s greatest achievement, in his three years in charge of his national side, that he has managed to retain those traits while reducing Italy’s reliance on them.
England’s four goals against Ukraine in the team’s quarterfinal were its highest total in a match at a major tournament since the 1966 World Cup final. As omens go, that’s not a terrible one for Gareth Southgate’s team on Wednesday, or as they take aim at Sunday’s final.
But England also is the only team in Euro 2020 that has not allowed an opposing goal.
Denmark can score from many places, though: Its 11 goals in the tournament, which were second only to (now departed) Spain entering the semifinals, were scored by seven players. And like England, Denmark is hitting its scoring stride: 10 of its 11 goals in the tournament have come in its three most recent games.
Denmark also has some recent history to call upon: The teams played twice in the UEFA Nations League last year, with Denmark earning a scoreless tie at home and a 1-0 victory (courtesy of a Christian Eriksen penalty) at Wembley.
“Denmark are a great team,” said England striker Harry Kane, who played in both games. “But we need to try to focus on ourselves; it is a semifinal at our national stadium and we’ve got to use all those positives to worry about us.”
Expect to hear the name Jack Grealish quite a bit today.
England has spent a lot of time, over the last year or so, thinking about Jack Grealish. At first, it was in the context of one of those classic English either/or debates, the sort of complex issue boiled down to a simple binary that fills all those quiet hours of radio and litters message boards and allows columnists to fulminate and encourages readers to click, click, click.
Should England Manager Gareth Southgate call up Grealish — the 25-year-old captain of Aston Villa, his boyhood team — or James Maddison, 24, the Leicester City playmaker with the slicked-back hair?
The answer, obviously, could have been both, or neither, or “well, they’re very different players and so this is a bit like asking whether England should play Harry Kane or a goalkeeper.” But that did not matter. What mattered was the question: Grealish, Maddison, either, or?
Southgate, not especially conveniently, settled that one a few weeks ago, when Grealish made his squad for Euro 2020 and Maddison did not. Smoothly, the debate shifted to acknowledge the updated circumstances. Grealish did not appear at all in England’s opening game against Croatia. Should Southgate be picking him? He was only a substitute against Scotland. Should he be starting? He was in the team against the Czech Republic. Should he not be the centerpiece of the side?
And then, 20 minutes or so into the second half of England’s round of 16 game with Germany on Tuesday, as Wembley was starting to fret about extra time and penalties and we all know how that ends against the Germans, the crowd made its verdict known. Pointedly, it started to chant Grealish’s name. It was not meant only as a paean for the player. It was an urgent, unanimous instruction for Southgate.
Hearing his name again and again, it is hard to avoid the suspicion that part of the affection for Grealish comes not from what he does, but who he is, or what he seems to stand for. He is a fine player, to be sure. But he is also something else.
Grealish, compared with much of the England squad, is fresh. He is, to some extent, a blank slate.