England 2-1 Denmark (AET): Three Lions are through to the Euro 2020 final – Asia Despatch

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England were home; they just couldn’t find the key to fit the door. Denmark were done; they just wouldn’t let it lie.

That is what got England over the threshold. The talent this country can throw at a football match these days. Not a golden team, but a gem of a squad. There was no let-up for an exhausted Danish team. Jack Grealish, then Phil Foden. Forces massing on the touchline. 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 — the most popular official in this country since that Russian linesman — pointed to the spot. A VAR check confirmed the obvious and Harry Kane stepped up to the ball. This is England, however. 

Nothing is straightforward. If Kane has taken a poorer penalty in his life, it is hard to remember. Good height for a goalkeeper, not near enough to the corner, Kasper Schmeichel — who had an outstanding game — pushed it out. And Kane was on it. Finished into the opposite corner, Schmeichel stranded. Scenes. 

And another hoodoo broken. This was the fifth straight England semi-final to go to extra time. The previous four have been lost. This was won. They are ticking them off, these obstacles to success. Next up, the first final since 1966.

England are through to the Euro 2020 final after beating Denmark 2-1 in extra-time on a historic night at Wembley

England are through to the Euro 2020 final after beating Denmark 2-1 in extra-time on a historic night at Wembley 

Captain Harry Kane scored with his rebound from the penalty spot after Kasper Schmeichel had saved his spot-kick

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

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

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

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

Raheem Sterling was brought down by Joakim Maehle and referee Danny Makkelie pointed to the penalty spot

MATCH FACTS 

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

Bookings: Maguire

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 

Bookings: Wass

Referee: Danny Makkelie (Netherlands)

And it’s going to be hard. Harder than this? Probably. Italy are a better team than Denmark. Kasper Hjulmand’s team have had a brilliant tournament, certainly in the most testing circumstances, but England were better on the night. Credit Sterling for never stopping the forward momentum; credit the team for bouncing back after going behind; and credit Gareth Southgate. This is his team, moulded in his image.

A yes man? He brought the fans’ favourite on after 69 minutes, used him to run Denmark ragged and then, having got ahead, removed him in 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 Braithwaite’s shot was tipped round a post by Jordan Pickford. Had that gone in… It didn’t. England won. England are in the final. The end justified the means. That’s football. England are actually quite good at it. Pinch yourself and believe.

Harry Maguire pointed out in the week before this game that England had yet to be tested going behind. How would they react?

The players had spoken about it, but last night we found out, and in real time. Thirtieth minute, England went behind; 39th minute, England equalised. There’s the answer. It wasn’t all plain sailing for England in the first half, far from it. But in that spell, there was at least a clue to the nerve and resolve of the team.

Denmark are a good side. Ignore those who spout about England’s easy route. Denmark had given every team a game to here, including Belgium, the world’s No 1. This was no exception.

England started ferociously, with Sterling as ever at the heart of it. No real chances but plenty to keep an excited crowd at fever pitch — England starting where they left off against Ukraine.

In the 13th minute, Mason Mount’s header picked out Kane, who fed Sterling on the left. His shot was saved by Schmeichel — an excellent stop from an excellent goalkeeper, but the England man would have hoped to score.

Yet just as the near-capacity crowd were hoping to see England maintain this near-impossible tempo all the way to an early goal, so Southgate’s men stopped looking after the ball and Denmark sniffed the wind and sensed change. Too many sloppy passes, too much emotion. 

Denmark had taken the lead in the 30th minute when Mikkel Damsgaard hit an unstoppable free-kick into the top corner

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

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 finger tips on the ball

Damsgaard’s free-kick sailed into the top left corner with Jordan Pickford only able to get finger tips 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 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

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

Kasper Schmeichel made a fantastic point-blank save from Raheem Sterling just before England scored in the first half

Denmark got the ball, slowed the game down. Denmark began dictating. For 20 minutes or so, they looked the better side.

In the 15th minute, a shot by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was comfortably saved by Pickford. His next action was a flawed throw to John Stones, who was not sufficiently engaged or ready. The Danes nicked the ball and Braithwaite had a shot deflected just wide. The worry being that when Pickford makes a mistake, as happened against Ukraine, it takes a few minutes to get it out of his system. These were dangerous moments for England.

In the 25th minute, Mikkel Damsgaard cut inside from the left and struck a shot which curled just wide of the far post. That was the warning shot.

England were conceding a lot of fouls 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 move, 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’s 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 near top corner, past a despairing 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 team are made of sterner stuff, perhaps, than previous incarnations. The crowd may have been wavering, but there was great self-belief about the way they retrieved parity. 

Schmeichel was there again to keep out Harry Maguire's header in the second half with a big save to the bottom left corner

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

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

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

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 miss-kicked the ball after Grealish laid it across to him in the box

Kane had a chance right at the end of the 90 minutes but miss-kicked the ball after Grealish laid it across to him in the box

In the 38th minute, a lovely cross by Kane was met by Sterling, forcing one of the saves of the tournament from Schmeichel. 

Ever wondered why Kane drops deeps to take the ball to feet? Now you know. It was this manoeuvre that allowed him to slip in Bukayo Saka a minute later, and his cross that 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 Kjaer left it.

It wasn’t Kjaer’s night. 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 referee Danny Makkelie booked him.

Lucky, though. Before tournament amnesties were introduced, that would have been a ban for the next game. 

Not that the two Leicester men were up for doing further favours, mind. Minutes later, a Maguire header should have provided England’s second but Schmeichel made a superb save, reminiscent of his heroics in the FA Cup final. 

England's captain had another effort saved by Schmeichel at the beginning of extra-time as he fired low at the near post

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

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

Denmark’s players applaud the 8,000 Danish fans inside Wembley after falling agonisingly short at the final hurdle

By the 69th minute it was Jack 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 into the book within three minutes of his arrival.

Grealish’s pace and play upped England’s game. In the 80th minute, his run started a move involving Mount and Luke Shaw, whose cross was cleared only for Kalvin Phillips to return it with a low shot, just wide.

There was even the hint of a groan late in the second half when Kane claimed a Sterling pass that might have fallen more handily for Grealish. That’s a sign of real popularity when the fans would rather Grealish be on the ball than England’s talisman striker. Twice, in the sixth minute of stoppage time, he had the crowd on its feet with crosses as the ball bobbled around Denmark’s area.

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