England have the chance to reach a first major final since their 1966 World Cup triumph when they take on Denmark at Wembley in Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final, but they will need to banish a history of stumbling at this stage
England have the chance to reach a first major final since their 1966 World Cup triumph when they take on Denmark at Wembley in Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final, but they will need to banish a history of stumbling at this stage.
Gareth Southgate's side were impressive in their 4-0 dismantling of Ukraine in Rome on Saturday, heralding a wave of euphoria in the country as media showered the team in praise.
England fans need no reminder, however, that their team have lost four major semi-finals since Alf Ramsey's team's title.
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Southgate has been keen to keep the burden of history out of his team's thinking. If he needs a way to bring his players back down to earth before the semi-final, he does not have to look back far for a warning against complacency.
An England side containing ten of the current squad faced Denmark at Wembley in October in a Nations League match and lost 1-0 to a Christian Eriksen penalty.
Eriksen, who is recovering from the shocking cardiac episode he suffered as he collapsed in Denmark's opening Euro game, will not feature at Wembley of course.
But Kasper Hjulmand's side, who beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in their quarter-final, will be largely the same as the one which left London with three points eight months ago.
The lessons from that game are limited by the fact that England played almost an hour with ten men after Harry Maguire was sent off in the 31st minute - but that in itself is a reminder of the way a moment of indiscipline can swing a game.
Maguire looks rock solid at the moment as part of an England defence which has yet to concede a goal in the tournament.
And with Harry Kane back to scoring form with three goals in the two knockout stage games, England look to be peaking at the right moment.
There was, however, a similar feeling among England fans after they beat Sweden in the last eight of the World Cup three years ago in Russia only to fall to Croatia in the semi.
"Now we've replicated what we did there, but that won't be enough to fulfil the group," said Southgate, who knows that the national mood would change sharply if his team stumble at the same stage this time.
Denmark's performances in this tournament, where they have responded to the Eriksen trauma in such inspiring fashion, should also keep England focused.
The Danes got out of Group B with a rousing 4-1 win over Russia in Copenhagen before thrashing Wales 4-0 in Amsterdam.
In the quarter-final they beat a well-organised Czech side 2-1 in the heat of Baku.
Much of the focus on Denmark has been on the way the team has come together and fought so well after the shocking scenes against Finland, with Southgate noting they are "riding a wave of emotion", but they have been much more than battlers.
Hjulmand's team have a clear structure and method to their play which has earned them their place in the last four.
In attack, Martin Braithwaite creates the spaces which Mikkel Damsgaard and Kasper Dolberg have exploited well and there is a threat from attacking wing backs Jens Stryger Larsen and the excellent Joakim Maehle.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Thomas Delaney are a firm presence in the centre of midfield while the back line in front of goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel has been solid.
Unbeaten England though start as clear favourites with a stronger squad and home advantage and the fear that has gripped them in previous campaigns refreshingly absent so far.
Spain or Italy, who play in Tuesday's other semi, await the winner in Sunday's final at Wembley.
WHO'S SAYING WHAT
Gareth Southgate, England manager: "We've got a fabulous opportunity. It's a chance to make history as we've never been to a European Championship final. It's not so much pressure for this team; it's another challenge that they've got the chance to take on, and at the moment they're rising to those challenges. We had two games with Denmark in the autumn. I knew what a good side they were before and they've proved that again in this tournament. It is going to be a fantastic game to be part of."
Harry Kane, England captain: "Denmark are a great team. We played them in the Nations League twice last year, and we didn't win one game – one draw, one loss. But we need to try to focus on ourselves; it is a semi-final at our national stadium and we've got to use all those positives to worry about us. We know if we get it right and play how we know we can then we have a great opportunity to get to a final. It's going to be incredible."
Kasper Hjulmand, Denmark coach: "It'll be like playing an away game, but that also has its own charm, so we're actually looking forward to it. We're happy that people will be there and that the fans are back in the stadium, though obviously we would have loved it if half the stadium was dressed in Danish colours. Our motivation is to silence the spectators, but we know it's going to be difficult."
Thomas Delaney, Denmark midfielder: "At the start of the tournament, we gave ourselves the goal of coming back to Wembley. With everything that we've been through, it's always been our No1 goal. Now we are ready for Wembley so, in terms of feelings, it has been crazy."
England's Football Association was the first national association to be founded, in 1863; the Danish Football Association became the fifth, in 1897, and the first outside the British Isles. The nations' first recorded meeting was an unofficial friendly in London in October 1911: England won 3-0, though the Danes prevailed by the same scoreline when they reconvened for another unofficial game in Copenhagen in 1914.
The teams also met – in a way – in two Olympic finals. Football was officially introduced to the Olympics in London in 1908, with Great Britain fielding a line-up composed entirely of English players. Great Britain beat the Danes 2-0 in the final and then confirmed their superiority with a 4-2 success in the 1912 decider in Stockholm.
4 - England have scored four goals in a knockout stage match of a major tournament (World Cup/EUROs) for only a second time; the other instance was the 1966 World Cup Final against Germany (4-2). Coming. #EURO2020 pic.twitter.com/RnMYo9y5im— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 3, 2021
HEAD TO HEAD
Denmark have won only four of their 21 official games against England compared to 12 English victories – although the Danes were victorious in the most recent. Christian Eriksen's 35th-minute penalty earned a 1-0 success at Wembley in the UEFA Nations League on 14 October 2020, a game in which England's Harry Maguire was sent off just prior to the goal and debutant Reece James after the final whistle. Eriksen and Simon Kjaer both won their 100th cap for Denmark in the match.
The reverse fixture, at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on 8 September 2020, had finished scoreless. That was Kasper Hjulmand's second game as Denmark coach, in which Christian Norgaard made his international debut for the home side and Kalvin Phillips, Conor Coady and Jack Grealish all won their first caps for England.
The sides' only EURO finals meeting came in 1992, a goalless draw in Malmö on Matchday 1. While England bowed out after failing to win a game (D2 L1), Denmark finished second in Group 1 behind hosts Sweden, then beat holders the Netherlands 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw in the semi-final before defeating world champions Germany 2-0 in the final to claim what remains their only major honour.
England triumphed in the only game between the sides at a FIFA World Cup, first-half goals from Rio Ferdinand (5), Michael Owen (22) and Emile Heskey (44) sealing a 3-0 victory in the 2002 round of 16 in Niigata. Current head coach Gareth Southgate was an unused substitute.
KEY OPTA STATS
With his two goals tonight, Harry Kane has now scored nine goals in major international tournaments for England.— The Analyst (@OptaAnalyst) July 3, 2021
Only @GaryLineker has scored more (10), but can Kane overtake this on Wednesday night vs Denmark?
We look back at the rout in Rome. ⬇️#ENGUKR #ENG #Euro2020
England: Pickford; Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw; Phillips, Rice; Saka, Mount, Sterling; Kane
Denmark: Schmeichel; Christensen, Kjær, Vestergaard; Stryger, Højbjerg, Delaney, Mæhle; Braithwaite, Dolberg, Damsgaard
FORM GUIDE (most recent first)
- With Reuters and Uefa inputs.