England and their long-suffering fans finally have the chance to add another trophy to the 1966 World Cup after they overcame Denmark 2-1 in extra-time on Wednesday to reach the European Championship final for the first time.
Harry Kane’s goal, following up after his penalty had been saved, finally saw off battling Denmark to set up a Sunday showdown against Italy, also looking to shake off the ‘60s as they seek to win the title they last lifted in 1968.
On a night to remember in front of almost 60,000 roaring fans, England fell behind to Mikkel Damsgaard’s superb free kick, equalized with an own goal, dominated the game and then won it via their captain, albeit somewhat unconvincingly, in the 104th minute. “Unbelievable - what a game though,” said Kane. “We dug deep and we got there when it mattered. We reacted really well - we’re in a final at home, what a feeling.” It was of course a particularly special night for coach Gareth Southgate, whose penalty shoot-out miss sent England out of the semi-finals of Euro 96. “We said to the players at some point we’re going to have to show resilience and come back from setbacks, and we did that tonight,” he said. “The most pleasing thing is that we’ve given our fans and our nation a fantastic night and the journey carries on for another four days. We’ve said we want to create memories I’ve said to the young ones ‘it isn’t always like this’.”
It was a tough way for Denmark to end their emotional ride from the fear and distress of Christian Eriksen’s opening game collapse to their first semi-final since their shock Euro 92 win, but their exhausted players left Wembley with socks rolled down but heads held high. “I am proud of this group and everyone who has been on this journey. It has been fantastic to be involved. I am hungry and empty, but I am also proud,” said Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
England had reached the semis without conceding a goal and it needed something special to pierce their rearguard as Damsgaard fired a powerful, dipping 25-yard free kick over the wall and beyond the diving Jordan Pickford -- the tournament’s first goal direct from a free kick -- after 30 minutes. The crowd were stunned, that had not been in the script, and the question of how England would respond to their first real setback would now be addressed.
The answer was calmly and patiently, as they passed their way back into the ascendancy. Sterling was denied at point-blank range by Kasper Schmeichel before the 39th-minute equalizer when Bukayo Saka hit the byline and fizzed over a low cross that Kjaer bundled over his own line in his attempt to stop the ball reaching Sterling.