Thursday, July 8, 2021

EURO 2020: England edge the Danes

England 2:1 Denmark, London

So England will play their first European Championship final at the 15th attempt. 

Home advantage told in the end. The heroic Danish campaign which began with Christian Eriksen passing out on the pitch in Copenhagen and the world holding its breath is over.

EURO 2020: England edge the Danes

It was a close match decided by a questionable refereeing call, so England fans should not get too giddy. Italy in the final will prove an even sterner test.

The Danes were the better team for about an hour and took a deserved lead through Mikkel Damsgaard on the half hour. His Ronaldo-esque dipper cleared the English wall and was hit so hard it beat Jordan Pickford despite not being placed in the corner of the goal.

England certainly have fighting spirit and clawed their way back to win, making their own luck.  Raheem Sterling may have gone to ground with less than forceful contact but his incursion which won the decisive penalty was one of many he made into the area.

England v Denmark
England v Denmark: Photo by Ross Clegg

The Manchester City has grown this tournament into one of England's key men, marked out by his  willingness to run at defences with the ball glued to his feet and unlike in Russia, an effective use of his pace.

The game started brightly but as with Germany at Wembley, the visitors had settled into the match better around 20 minutes. Denmark were passing it calmly, while their keen pressing was stopping the England midfield from combining. The Danes closed down fast and in numbers whenever an England player dithered.

So England found themselves in the unfamiliar position of playing second fiddle in the Euros. A warning came in the 25th minute when Harry Kane was robbed of the ball in midfield and a Danish counter saw Damsgaard curl wide of the post. 

With little margin for error at the back, Mason Mount struck a raiding Kaspar Dolberg just short of the half hour and the Danes won a couple of free kicks deep in English territory. 

England v Denmark: Photo by Ross Clegg
Wembley, England v Denmark: Photo by Ross Clegg

For the second, Damsgaard eyed his prey like a hunter before finding the net. First blood to the Danes.

England had conceded their first goal of the tournament. It was no surprise as Denmark had been superior for about a quarter of an hour, with better passing and movement. England had been launching balls and looking a little ragged.

The Danes' turnovers and transitions in midfield were a worry for the Three Lions, but England fought back. 

In the 38th minute Kane crossed and Kasper Schemeichel saved point blank from Sterling. A minute later Sterling lost his marker Simon Kjaer, who sliding in to stop a Bukayo Saka cross bundled it over his own line.

The second half was not as exciting as both teams gradually wilted. The best chance came in the 55th minute from a Mount delivery as the imperious Harry Maguire rose to head home what looked like a certain goal before Schmeichel's fingertips intervened.

England v Denmark: Photo by Ross Clegg
England v Denmark: Photo by Ross Clegg

England had a good period for the next ten minutes but could only forge a shot from Mount which Schmeichel caught with ease.

England swapped Saka for Jack Grealish, who had only enjoyed fleeting appearances so far at the Euros, but the fans' favourite lasted only 27 minutes before being swapped for an extra defender as England bunkered down in extra time.

Southgate made only one change in the 90 to Hjulmand's five, either a canny tactic to have fresh legs in extra time or another unwillingness to take risks, as he was criticised for in the 2018 World Cup semi final.

EURO 2020: England edge the Danes

In truth neither side played as well with the subs on. So to extra time and in its fourth minute  Schmeichel, Denmark's man of the match, saved one handed as Kane shot from a tight angle.

England pressed. Grealish fired but Schmeichel stood his ground and punched clear. Then Sterling fired high. Denmark were not threatening anymore.

With two minutes until the end of the first period, Sterling tumbled as Joakim Maehle challenged him as he danced into the box again and the referee blew for a penalty. Replays were highly debatable but England had got a break, a deserved one for their pressure.

Kane fired low to his right but the nation gasped as Schmeichel dived and fumbled it while apparently trying to catch it. It was far from a great kick but the ball spun back into Kane's stride and he finished the second time. 

The clock ticked down to 120 and England, now camped in their own half with a five-man defence, resisted any Danish attacks. Their defence was their strongest point again. 

It was another hard-fought semi final with little to choose between the sides but the home team had the extra fuel in the tank in the end and had got the decisive goal.

The Danes leave with much credit and international admiration after an extraordinary emotional rollercoaster. It is hard to believe they lost three games at this tournament, but divine providence seemed to be on their side after Eriksen's resurrection. Already a FIFA top-ten ranked side, they will go on with confidence to Qatar 2022. 

In Schmeichel they have a great goalkeeper, in Jannik Vestergaard a tower of defensive might and in Martin Braithwaite, Damsgaard and Maehle three sharp attackers.

England now have their biggest test of all. The Azzurri have probably been the best all-round team in the European championship. Even with home advantage, England will need to up their game on Sunday to claim their first continental trophy.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

No comments: