London, 8 July 2021 (dpa/MIA) – A penalty rebound converted by Harry Kane gave England a deserved 2-1 win over Denmark at a rocking Wembley Stadium in Wednesday’s Euro 2020 semi-final to set up a home showpiece against Italy on Sunday.
Kane saw his 104th minute penalty – controversially not overturned by video review despite Raheem Sterling going down under minimal contact from Joakim Maehle – saved by Kasper Schmeichel but made no mistake with his second attempt.
England have ended a 55-year wait to reach a major final and one more win will end the same drought since their one and only trophy, the 1966 World Cup – also lifted at Wembley.
“We know it’s going to be a very tough game against Italy, we’ve had a great tournament so far,” said Kane. “One more game to go at home and we can’t wait.”
Denmark’s fairytale run since the collapse of Christen Eriksen with cardiac arrest in their opening game ended despite Mikkel Damsgaard’s brilliant free kick giving them a 30th minute lead.
But Simon Kjaer’s own goal levelled matters before the break and with England dominant, the winner was a matter of time in coming even if Denmark survived the initial 90 minutes.
“We’re very disappointed we were so close, we were close to a final and it was decided that way,” said Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand. “I’ve been reading the international press and it was a penalty that shouldn’t have been a penalty and that annoys me right now.”
The vast majority of the 65,000 crowd inside Wembley – the biggest attendance at a UK sporting event since the coronavirus pandemic began – could not hide their delight at seeing England continue their progress which was fully merited despite the disputed nature of the winning goal.
The influential Sterling cut in from the right and tumbled but was well on the way to the ground even before he was grazed by Maehle.
Sterling insisted he “touched my leg so it was a clear penalty.”
And the contact, however slight, was enough to convince the review the decision was not clearly mistaken and Kane took full advantage for his fourth goal of the tournament.
“It was difficult going behind but we knew we had to stay patient – we knew with the legs we’ve got, the aggressiveness and the power we have in the team, it would be a matter of time before we broke them down,” said Sterling.
Denmark, playing on a wave of emotion since Eriksen’s collapse, started slowy but gradually turned matters. Young talent Damsgaard had already curled wide before finding the net with a beautiful free-kick over the wall.
“Our future is full of hope and belief,” said Hjulmand, “these guys are outstanding and the nation can be proud.”
It was England‘s first goal conceded in the tournament and in a total of 691 minutes – though by then keeper Jordan Pickford had narrowly broken England‘s personal clean sheet record of World Cup winning goalie Gordon Banks, who didn’t concede for 720 minutes in May-July 1966.
“When you’ve waited as long as we have to get through a semi-final, the players – considering the limited international experience some of them have – have done an incredible job,” said England manager Gareth Southgate, who missed the crucial spot-kick in the Euro 96 semi-final shoot-out loss to Germany.
“We’ve got to enjoy the fact we’re in the final but there’s one more massive hurdle to conquer. Italy are a very good side, I’ve thought that the last couple of years.”
Sterling was denied an equalizer by a point-blank Schmeichel save but his presence awaiting Bukayo Saka’s cross forced Kjaer into a 39th minute own goal.
It was the 11th own goal of the tournament with only nine having been recorded combined at every previous edition since 1960.
“It was an amazing journey,” said Kjaer. “I’m sorry that it’s over.”
Denmark’s tiring legs conceded possession and territory to England, who did however struggle to create.
Defender Harry Maguire’s header was superbly clawed out by Schmeichel – whose father Peter was a Denmark hero in their Euro title win of 1992 – and extra-time loomed.
Schmeichel denied captain Kane and substitute Jack Grealish while Sterling fired over from the edge of the box.
Eventually the pressure told though and England‘s Wembley exploded with equal measure of joy and relief.