Raheem Sterling claimed there was contact from Denmark's Joakim Maehle before he went to ground to win the decisive penalty in England's 2-1 European Championship semi-final victory.

The decision to award England a penalty after 102 minutes of play at Wembley stood up to a VAR check and Harry Kane had the spot-kick saved before he buried the rebound past Kasper Schmeichel.

Earlier, England had fallen behind to a superb long-range free-kick from Mikkel Damsgaard before Sterling forced an equaliser that went in off Simon Kjaer.

Sterling said he felt the decision to award the penalty in extra time was correct, telling ITV: "I went into the box, he stuck his right leg out and it touched my leg so it's a clear penalty.

"As long as it goes in the back of the net, that's all that matters."

Sterling has scored three times on England's route to the final at Wembley, where they will play Italy on Sunday evening.

The Manchester City forward said the experience of bouncing back after conceding their first goal of the tournament would stand England in good stead against Roberto Mancini's Azzurri.

"It was a top performance," said the 26-year-old. "We had to dig in deep. "It was the first time we conceded but we responded well and showed good spirit.

"We knew it would be difficult. We stayed patient and we knew the legs and aggressiveness we have in the team we'd be okay.

"It's another step in the right direction. We have to focus on the weekend now. It's step-by-step. We know what football means to this country. The energy, the atmosphere...it was top.

"Now we have Italy. We will celebrate a little bit then focus on Italy."

The dark horses fell at the penultimate fence.

Wembley Stadium on Wednesday was one step too far for Denmark. From that awful moment when Christian Eriksen collapsed, through two group defeats, a battering of Russia and Wales and Joakim Maehle's magic against the Czech Republic, Kasper Hjulmand's men have captivated fans at Euro 2020 more than any other side.

Against England, the brutal truth of football took over. Denmark were good, but just not good enough. The standout individual performances, the critical moments, the game management – they belonged to the Three Lions.

Fans should commiserate, of course, but they should celebrate, too, for what their team have produced in these past few weeks.

England had been the most resolute of all sides at these finals. Five games, five clean sheets – their best return at a major tournament. They had not let in a goal since March. Midway through the first half against Denmark, Jordan Pickford broke Gordon Banks' record of 720 minutes without conceding.

It was likely to take something special to break that run. Barely 60 seconds later, it duly arrived.

Mikkel Damsgaard, 21 years old, unleashed a sensational, dipping free-kick from more than 30 yards out that flew past Pickford's despairing grasp. It was the first direct free-kick scored at these finals and the eighth direct goal involvement the Sampdoria man – who is sure to attract interest from across the continent – had managed in seven starts for his country.

Damsgaard served up a moment worthy of the stage, of the exceptional tournament Hjulmand's men have had.

It was unfortunate then to concede an equaliser via captain Simon Kjaer, his desperate lunge to stop Raheem Sterling scoring a tap-in only sending the ball into the unguarded net. Perhaps Schmeichel could have done more to cut out Bukayo Saka's cross, though Sterling would have scored a minute earlier but for a mighty block from the Leicester City goalkeeper.

 

Schmeichel has enjoyed trips to Wembley this year. On May 15, Leicester lifted the FA Cup thanks to two moments of stupendous quality against Chelsea: Youri Tielemans' goal, and Schmeichel's fingertip save from Mason Mount. He repeated the trick here, flying to his right to claw away a Harry Maguire header and stopping Kane's goalbound low strike on the stretch in the second half.

You began to sense that, if penalties came, Schmeichel might prove the hero. When he finally faced one, he did indeed keep it out – but the rebound fell at Kane's feet for the easiest Wembley goal he will ever score. He still made a last-second save to deny Sterling at the end of extra time, as if to remind us of his real quality.

There is never a good way to lose a semi-final, but this 2-1 loss felt cruel on Denmark. England deserved to win the match, that's certainly true, but Schmeichel did not deserve to lose. Captain Kjaer, a hero in the truest sense when Eriksen's life was in danger, should never have been the man to score an own goal in his country's biggest game in 29 years.

When it comes to results, elite football can be a harsh place. But events like these are also about the journey, and Denmark's at these finals has been one to remember.

John Stones extended his arm and held up a palm. Stop. Breathe.

It was time for Jordan Pickford to calm down. No time for bedlam.

The Everton goalkeeper headed into Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final encounter with Denmark in superb form, yet to be beaten in the tournament.

In the 27th minute at Wembley, Pickford moved on to 720 minutes without conceding a goal for England, breaking a record set by the great Gordon Banks between May and July 1966. We all know how that tournament ended and how none have ended like it in the 55 years and four semi-final defeats since.

But by the time Pickford pouched that piece of history, events had already started to turn.

After Kalvin Phillips erred to allow a shot from Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Pickford frantically sought to launch an attack - his distribution often such a plus for Gareth Southgate. He hurled the ball straight at Mikkel Damsgaard, who understandably seemed a little surprised by that.

A passage of gasping, pulse-quickening mistakes ended with Martin Braithwaite having a shot deflected behind for a corner. England emerged unscathed but robbed entirely of their early poise.

Damsgaard, Braithwaite and Kasper Dolberg were finding pockets of space all across the turf, with England's plan for snuffing out Denmark's lightning breaks apparently amounting to little more than Kyle Walker being terrifyingly fast. He's terrifyingly brilliant, too, but still...

Too much was passing England's defensive midfield block by. Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips did not make a tackle between them in the first half. Tottenham's Hojbjerg, patrolling central areas expertly alongside Thomas Delaney, snapped into five all by himself.

Rice was caught napping by Dolberg, who was brought down by Mason Mount. That's what friends are for.

A relatively unthreatening free-kick became a threatening one as Luke Shaw wrapped his arms around Andreas Christensen defending the initial set-piece. From 30 yards, Damsgaard creamed a delightful strike beyond Pickford, who will think he should have done better.

 

In calmer times, perhaps he would. Then there was further skittishness, prompting centre-back Stones to intervene.

Contrary to Pickford's need to slow down, England's best moments came when they dared Denmark to find a solution to Bukayo Saka's quicksilver pace and Raheem Sterling's restless, relentless, intelligent movement.

Sterling started the game tearing mercilessly after the right-hand side of the Danish defence. He should have done better after cutting inside Christensen and scuffing a shot too close to Kasper Schmeichel.

A scuff would have done the job in the 38th minute, when Sterling met Saka's low cross sweetly and Schmeichel saved improbably. But the seed was planted – more ice-cool work in behind from Saka, more scrambled brains as Sterling made a nuisance of himself, with the result an own goal for skipper Simon Kjaer.

The contest continued in that vein throughout the second half, when whichever side found themselves on the backfoot appeared to be operating in a state of anguish. The occasion simultaneously fuelled its protagonists and threatened to blow up in their faces. Pickford saved sharply from Dolberg, unaware of the offside flag

Into the final 20 minutes of normal time and the highest stakes elite football was operating under park rules: next goal wins. Southgate's team are gloriously unburdened by England's tragicomic history. But no footballer with a pulse would be unburdened by such a present.

Jack Grealish was on but Kasper Hjulmand used his bench more boldly, sending on Yussuf Poulsen and Christian Norgaard for the impressive Damsgaard and Dolberg. Or was it more desperately, as Rice and Phillips (95.2 and 90.2 per cent pass completion) emerged from choppy waters to gradually exert control and wrestle the opponents deeper.

Six minutes of stoppage time: would you even dare? Sterling still asked questions of defenders with no remaining appetite for such trivia. Fouls piled up, bodies were on the line. This was how England tended to conclude big knockout games but Denmark reached the sanctuary of full-time.

 

Still Southgate kept his talent-stacked bench sheathed. Harry Kane fired towards Schmeichel on the angle. No one was there for the rebound. Fresh legs might have been.

And so, they arrived. Phil Foden instantly schemed with bad intentions, briefly lifting kindred-spirit Grealish in the process.

Sterling still schemed with bad intentions and found himself lying at the feet of Jannik Vestergaard, which felt mocking because the hulking centre-back looked like the biggest, tiredest man in the whole world.

The Manchester City forward was on the floor due to some combination of contact from Joakim Maehle and Mathias Jensen. Danny Makkelie ruled it was enough for a penalty.

Stop. Breathe.

Saved? No problem. Harry Kane never needs to calm down with a loose ball and a goal in front of him.

2-1. It was time for bedlam.

England reached their first European Championship final as an extra-time goal from Harry Kane sealed a 2-1 win over Denmark at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday. 

The Three Lions had lost their only previous two semi-finals in the competition – against Yugoslavia in 1968 and Germany in 1996 – but Kane stroked home after his initial penalty had been saved by Kasper Schmeichel in the 104th minute to ensure they will face Italy in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday. 

Mikkel Damsgaard had put Denmark ahead on the half-hour mark with a superb free-kick before Gareth Southgate’s side pulled level before the break when Simon Kjaer bundled into his own net under pressure from Raheem Sterling. 

England were unable to find a winner inside 90 minutes, but Kane secured a memorable win at the second time of asking to set up a mouth-watering clash against Roberto Mancini's Azzurri at the weekend.

Sterling scuffed a shot straight at Schmeichel after cutting in from the left early on, while Martin Braithwaite had an effort deflected wide at the other end following a poor throw by Jordan Pickford.

England struggled to get a foothold in the game for much of the opening half hour and were duly punished when Damsgaard whipped a free-kick past Pickford from 30 yards, ending a run of 691 minutes without conceding for Southgate's men. 

Sterling fired straight at Schmeichel from six yards as England belatedly woke from their slumber, before they pulled level in the 39th minute when Kjaer turned into his own net from Bukayo Saka's low cross. 

A full-stretch Schmeichel pawed away Harry Maguire's header at the start of the second period, while a Luke Shaw cross flashed wide after taking a heavy deflection off Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. 

England dominated the second half, taking nine shots to Denmark's one, but they were unable to find a goal that would have prevented extra-time. 

Kane was denied by Schmeichel from a tight angle at the start of the additional period and the Denmark goalkeeper was called into action again soon after to push away substitute Jack Grealish's powerful strike.

Schmeichel thought he had got the better of Kane again, the Leicester City man keeping out his weak spot-kick after Sterling had been brought down by Joakim Maehle, but the England captain slotted the rebound into an empty net to send Wembley into raptures.

Harry Kane is the best finisher in world football and supporters were wrong to doubt him amid his slow Euro 2020 start.

That is the view of former England manager Steve McClaren as Kane prepares to lead the line in Wednesday's huge semi-final against Denmark on Wednesday.

Kane failed to score in all three group games against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic as England made a steady but unspectacular start.

There were questions over whether the 27-year-old should retain his place in the line-up but the Tottenham striker responded with a headed goal against Germany in the last 16 and two more as England thrashed Ukraine 4-0 in the last eight.

Kane, the top scorer at World Cup 2018, has been involved in 27 goals in his last 26 games for England.

He has nine goals at major tournaments, with his second goal against Ukraine meaning he matched the career total scored by Alan Shearer.

Ahead of the Denmark game, Kane is one away from equalling the national record held by Gary Lineker (10).

Reflecting on Kane's tournament, McClaren told Stats Perform: "Unbelievable. 

"Do we not learn the lessons? You know, you have got Shearer and Lineker on the TV and talking their exploits and not scoring for ages coming into squads.

"Terry Venables [kept faith] with Shearer and Bobby Robson did with Lineker, do we not learn from this? 

"And you could see from the first games, okay, he's out of sorts, but he didn't get the service.

"There were no crosses going into the box, there was no one sliding balls through. 

"And to be fair Harry was outside the box the majority of the time but against Ukraine, Germany, he was inside the box.

"When he is inside the box, he is the best finisher in the world at the present moment. So put the ball in the box. Once we do that, he will score without a doubt."

 

McClaren believes Kane and Raheem Sterling are the two automatic attacking selections for Gareth Southgate, with a host of options beyond that for the other two spots.

"Reliability, that is the key thing," McClaren said about Sterling. "He's always produced for England, why? He's got the trust of Gareth. Every time he comes in, he plays. 

"It's difficult in a club because there are many, many games and sometimes you've been left out or other talent comes in. 

"And I think he's had an up and down season with Man City and in his relationship with Pep Guardiola. 

"He's not the nailed on number one like he is with England and that's the key thing. 

"He's playing with that freedom and you don't see players like that in any of the other nations. 

"Someone who can beat players, go past players, can score with both feet, with his head now he's getting into the box. But he can also create like he did for Kane against Ukraine."

 

McClaren believes England have fringe players who would be huge stars for most of the other nations at the Euros, talking up the likes of Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden.

He added: "Gareth's got an embarrassment of riches, he's got so many players who are so different in those positions.

"Grealish normally in any other team in these championships would be the star man regularly playing every game, Foden would be the star man playing every game, Sancho would be the star man playing every game. 

"They are not for England - what a luxury for Gareth.

"Sancho is just one of those talents amongst quite a few that we've got. He beats players, he's quick, strong, direct - he can assist, he can score. 

"He is a younger Sterling at the present moment and looking at him in the future, he could be better than him."

 

While the attacking options often dominate the public debate, McClaren has been extremely impressed with West Ham's Declan Rice and Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips in midfield.

"The work-rate, intensity, the amount of interceptions, the tackles that they put in, they have been for me the unsung heroes of the performances so far," said McClaren.

"We always say if you if you've got weak centre backs or you're not too sure about your centre backs, you always give them protection.

"When you're a little bit suspect there and you have [Tryone] Mings and [John] Stones and people, and without [Harry] Maguire [for the initial games], he [Southgate] needed that protection.

"They've been absolutely fantastic. They've protected the back, let them defend well from crosses. And they've also provided the front players the freedom to go about their jobs. 

"So it's a thankless task, but they're doing it so well."

 

Of the threat posed by Denmark, he added: "I think the big danger is the momentum that they're gaining, the emotion from everybody is with Denmark.

"Christian Eriksen with that incident - so pleased for him and his family and for everybody in football that he's fine and is recovering. 

"But I just think they've been galvanised by what has happened and if Eriksen is at the game with the Danish squad, that's an unbelievable boost. 

"You can see that something is behind them and that for me is the biggest danger, it is not so much Denmark, the players and the team - it's the momentum and the sway and the emotion and the euphoria that is propelling that Danish team above what they should be doing. 

"When you have a cause like that, it so powerful, a powerful emotion, a powerful incentive to see Eriksen at the game as well."

Former England boss Steve McClaren believes Gareth Southgate will guide the country to Euro 2020 glory ahead of their huge semi-final against Denmark.

McClaren thinks Southgate must be struggling to sleep at night given the array of options he has when trying to select a starting XI for Wednesday's match at Wembley.

But he feels England have everything they need to get over the line at the tournament by beating Denmark and winning the final.

Italy will play either England or Denmark in Sunday's final after beating Spain on penalties in the other semi.

McClaren has been so impressed by what he has seen from England and thinks they have a squad that can technically match any other on the continent.

 

"Physically, we are so strong, powerful," McClaren said to Stats Perform.

"And speed, we've got speed in the team, we didn't really have speed before, but now we can explode. You see the power and the intensity that we play with.

"What we've got over these last 10 years - we have produced players through the FA, through the Premier League, through the [Elite Performance Plan].

"We have created players who now technically can live with the best in Europe and the world and tactically they can now adapt to different situations.

"The key thing now is mentality because I think once we win a trophy, and we will, and I think it will be this year, then we will continue to dominate. 

"And that mentality will be so strong once you win, get over that hurdle, getting past the semi-final, getting into our final and winning - that belief that it gives you, that's the mentality part. 

"That's the bit that's missing. But this squad can deliver that."

 

McClaren has been impressed by the spirit Southgate has maintained in the England squad amid a huge public debate over who should be playing.

The lack of game time for the likes of Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho was a major talking point earlier in the competition but Southgate appears to have kept the whole camp on side.

"Look, he knows, all managers know, it's not about the one to 11," added McClaren.

"It's about the 12 to 26 and Gareth knows that you've got to look after those players who are not playing, who are sat in the stands, who don't get an opportunity to play. 

"One to 11, they're low maintenance or should be low maintenance. It's the 12 to 26. They're the ones you have to focus on.

"And he knows he's got to get a relationship, keep a relationship, keep them on board, because as he's proved, this isn't searching for England's best 11. 

"Yes, in terms of a core, what is the best core, but around that core, he's got players that he's used all the time.

"He's not afraid to use them, change the team, change the formation."

 

Southgate will be pondering whether to bring Arsenal youngster Bukayo Saka back into the line-up after he missed the 4-0 quarter-final win over Ukraine with a knock.

McClaren added: "Saka came in and did well, Grealish has come in and everyone's clamouring for him, Sancho everyone's clamouring for him, [Marcus] Rashford doesn't even get a game. 

"So who knows how he sleeps at night!

"But certainly the core of the team is there, the back four is there. The [Declan] Rice and [Kalvin] Phillips partnership is there, [Jordan] Henderson can come in and add to that.

"Ahead of that you've got [Harry] Kane and [Raheem] Sterling who are nailed on, but you've got two positions in which you've got [Mason] Mount, [Phil] Foden, Grealish, Rashford, Sancho, Saka - they can all come in, so how do you pick two from that?"

 

Southgate must also decide whether to revert back to a three-man defence as he did against Germany in the last 16, but McClaren hopes he remains aggressive with a 4-2-3-1.

"I think he started the tournament wanting to get through the group stage and he did that," McClaren opined.

"Germany was a huge game. He wanted to keep it tight, be a bit pragmatic, but I think he just opened up against Ukraine and I hope he continues with that.

"[Kieran] Trippier, [Luke] Shaw, [Kyle] Walker, [Ben] Chilwell, they are basically full-backs and so therefore [playing in a] 3-4-3, especially with two controllers, Rice and Phillips, is hard. 

"We've only got three strikers and then it's very difficult as you're relying on supply. Those players are better full-backs with wingers ahead and then they can be overlapping. 

"[With a 3-4-3] we attack with three and it was easier to contain. Yes, we always were in control with Germany, Scotland and the Czech Republic but I just felt an extra attacker would help.

"It would better to have full-backs coming from behind."

A lot can change in a month. Think back to England's pre-Euro 2020 friendlies and most fans or pundits were likely highlighting the defence as their primary concern.

Harry Maguire was injured and seemingly a doubt for the entire group stage; Trent Alexander-Arnold was ruled out of the tournament; and certain decisions made by Tyrone Mings had alarm bells ringing.

Yet, here we are, four weeks on and England are preparing for a Euro 2020 semi-final having not conceded a single goal in five tournament matches.

While sceptics might suggest the general level of those opponents wasn't always world class, the fact is their five clean sheets has equalled a major tournament record – it is a genuine achievement in itself.

That record is extended to Jordan Pickford as well, with the Everton goalkeeper one clean sheet away from setting a new record for the most clean sheets at a European Championship (six).

 

Before Euro 2020, most will have been championing England's forward options as the team's strongest element, but now there's more than a case for the defence.

Solid and dependable

While Everton fans would insist Jordan Pickford's form has been strong for a while, it's fair to say there are many who've been surprised – rightly or wrongly – by his showings at Euro 2020.

His kicking has been an asset to England, while he's produced some excellent saves and his importance to the team is quantifiable as well.

According to xGOT (expected goals on target) conceded data, Pickford has actively prevented 1.5 goals at Euro 2020. Now, that may not sound massive in the grand scheme of things, it's actually highly impressive given the small sample of matches involved.

Only Stole Dimitrievski (2.6) and Tomas Vaclik (2.5) have prevented more goals than him in the tournament, though their respective xGA (expected goals against) figures of 8.85 and 6.7 show their records come from a larger pool of quality chances than Pickford (2.95).

 

Of course, away from goalkeeping, defensive excellence can be difficult to outline with statistics, particularly in good teams. For example, if John Stones was leading the charts for the most tackles, it would suggest England were playing a risky game because of the over-reliance on someone in their backline. He isn't, and that obviously reflects well on the Three Lions' organisation.

But two individual metrics reflect particularly well on Harry Maguire. The Manchester United centre-back has received great praise since returning to the team for the third group game, impressing with his reliability at the back.

The acclaim is backed up by the fact he's not lost a single aerial duel (8/8) and come out on top in 14 of his 16 overall duels since coming back into the side.

Both he and Pickford will be looked to again on Wednesday, particularly given Denmark – whose 15 direct attacks is the most of all teams at Euro 2020 – have scored 11 times so far, a haul bettered by only Spain (12) before the semis.

Shields up

Central midfield was another area of the team that had sections of the support unconvinced ahead of the tournament, with the double-pivot of Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips deemed by many as too conservative. Granted, few Premier League fans would have looked at them and thought, "these two guarantee goals", but international football over the past nine years has given great credence to the idea pragmatism rules.

It'd now be fair to assume the majority of England fans would start both players for the remainder of the tournament, regardless of the opposition. As a pair they possess great athleticism, good ball-retention ability, work ethic and defensive nous.

Phillips has arguably been the greater eye-opener. While his advanced role against Croatia may not have developed into a continuing theme, his ability to sniff out danger and be in the right place at the right time has been notable, and as such only six midfielders could better his 28 recoveries prior to the semi-finals.

 

Similarly, his athleticism has translated well to aerial battles as well, with his 10 aerial wins ranking him fourth among midfielders.

Rice has generally been the one of the two with the greater defensive responsibility, as reflected by his eight interceptions, two blocks and seven clearances, all of which put him in the top five for midfielders at Euro 2020 prior to the semi-finals.

Though it's also worth highlighting that, although Rice works effectively off the ball, his influence in possession is also significant, as evidenced by the collective xG value of build-ups he's involved in being 3.1, only bettered by four Spain players.

Sure, this metric will be weighted in favour of teams who play more games and have a greater share of the ball, but he's ranked higher than the likes of Jordi Alba (2.3) and Jorginho (2.6), which speaks volumes.

So, while the defence and Pickford are certainly doing a fine job, their defensive shield is also proving highly capable.

Passive effective

In 2021, high-intensity pressing is very much in vogue, which is another reason why this England team is so interesting. While some teams almost religiously stick to such principals, the Three Lions prefer to pick their moments.

This is partly reflected by England's 35 high turnovers being the lowest of the four semi-finalists (Spain and Denmark on 47, Italy on 42), while their 98 defensive actions is also well behind (Spain 159, Italy 134, Denmark 127).

England's average starting position of 42.6 metres (also a low among the last four) shows how they tend to defend deeper, and the fact they allow 18.6 passes on average before initiating a defensive action (PPDA) further reflects Southgate's desire to have a lower line of engagement.

 

It's not that England don't press, they are just more passive in general. This certainly won't be a surprising revelation to anyone who has watched them at Euro 2020.

This passive nature doesn't necessarily lend itself to many people's idea of exciting football, but it seems to be having a real impact…

How it all comes together

Whether or not Southgate's masterplan was to shutdown the opposition and rely on their own clinical finishing, only he can say, though it's worked out that way so far.

Again, generally speaking England games haven't exactly been packed with excitement for the neutrals, with their matches averaging just 15.8 shots – that's the lowest of any side in the Euros dating back to at least 1980, with the next being Germany (2021) on 18.5.

Seemingly England's low defensive line – which has often comprised of a back three – coupled with two defensive-minded deep-lying midfielders has contributed to England facing just two shots on target per game, second only to Italy (1.8).

 

On top of that, 43 per cent of their shots faced have been outside of the box, the fourth-highest share of all teams at the tournament, and that undoubtedly plays a role in England's 0.07 xG against per shot being the lowest at Euro 2020 ahead of the semis. Additionally, their 2.95 xG against and two Opta-defined 'big chances' conceded are the lowest.

Of course, that would all be for nothing if England couldn't put the ball away at the other end, yet their 21.6 conversion rate is the highest of all 24 teams prior to the final three matches and shows just how efficient they've been, despite Harry Kane coming in for significant criticism earlier in the tournament.

 

Nevertheless, England's excellence at the back so far is by no means a guarantee of success on Wednesday. It only takes one moment of genius or calamity to ruin all the hard work, and that could come from anywhere, anyone.

But the data helps paint a picture of structural effectiveness in the team, as well as a collective quality that is breeding consistency.

While the relevance of the past certainly pales in comparison to what comes next, it's undoubtedly comforting to Southgate and England fans alike that they've had such a solid foundation to this point.

However, it will be defined by what happens in the next five days: crumble and England will fade, or stand firm and the Three Lions will surely roar again.

Gareth Southgate challenged his England players to keep making history ahead of their Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark.

Southgate's men are aiming to win a first major honour for 55 years but have consistently breached new ground of late.

The last-16 win over Germany was the first time they had beaten a country with a world title to their name in a knockout fixture since the 1966 World Cup final.

A 4-0 quarter-final thrashing of Ukraine made it consecutive semi-finals on the back of the run Southgate masterminded at Russia 2018 – the first time England have accomplished that since going close in the 1968 European Championship.

Nevertheless, that five-and-a-half-decade drought is the one statistic that continues to loom, but one from which the manager suggested his young and gifted squad can feel liberated by.

"We don't have as good a football history as we like to believe sometimes," he told a pre-match news conference. "These players are making massive strides."

"We've broken down barriers in this tournament and we have another opportunity to do that tomorrow.

"We have never been to a European Championship final so we can be the first England team to do that which is really exciting."

There will be 60,000 fans at Wembley on Wednesday – an increased capacity on previous matches in London at Euro 2020.

The win against Germany was celebrated with a lap of honour but Southgate has witnessed a more muted reception to progress among his players when compared to their Russian adventure.

 

"It definitely feels different this time," he said. "The World Cup was a very emotional journey for us. We hadn't won a knockout game for 12 years or something like that.

"The night with Colombia where we won that knockout game, won a penalty shoot-out. It was highly emotional.

"Then the quarter-final with Sweden, again, the first time in a semi-final for [22] years.

"It has felt different this time in that we expected ourselves to get to this point. We've had that internal aim.

"We've not been our celebrating the victories in the same way. We've moved on to the next challenge quickly and it was the same in Rome. Our focus was very quickly on the game against Denmark."

Denmark boss Kasper Hjulmand suggested the pressure of expectation from the home crowd could get to England, but Southgate was again keen to emphasise a sense of opportunity.

"We've had expectation during the whole tournament and I think we have dealt with that really well, in the opening game [against Croatia] for example, and in the game with Germany," he added.

"But we've never been to a final so the pressure is what you choose it to be really. I think it is a motivating thing, it is a challenge for us.

"If we were a country that had won five titles and had to match what had gone before I might feel differently – but we are not."

Denmark goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel is hoping to turnaround a wretched individual record against England captain Harry Kane in Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final.

Kane has put a slow start to the tournament behind him during the knockout stages, following his game-sealing header in the 2-0 last-16 win over Germany with a brace in last weekend's 4-0 quarter-final demolition of Ukraine in Rome.

Leicester City keeper Schmeichel knows all about Kane's lethal qualities from their duels in the Premier League.

Indeed, Kane's 14 goals past Schmeichel are more than he has managed against any other goalkeeper across all competitions.

One of those was in a 4-2 win for Spurs at the King Power Stadium on the final day of the Premier League season that denied Leicester a Champions League place.

On the other hand, Schmeichel went unbeaten by Kane or any other England player when Denmark drew 0-0 at home with the Three Lions in last season's Nations League before winning 1-0 at Wembley, where their semi-final will also take place.

"He's a world class striker, someone who can always guarantee you a lot of goals during the season," Schmeichel told a pre-match news conference.

"He's a very dedicated and professional player. He knows where to position himself, he's very instinctive.

"I would say that he is among the top three or top five strikers in the world."

 

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who shares a club dressing room with Kane, ranks him even more highly.

However, the Denmark midfielder insists he will have no special tips for his defensive colleagues.

"I don't need to introduce Harry Kane for anyone," he said.

"Behind closed doors he is very professional. He's good at what he does, he's very dedicated.

"He's just an incredible football player. So, for me, Harry is the best player in that position.

"It is an honour to play with him every day but I'm sure that, with the defence we have, it's going to be tough for him."

 

Denmark head coach Kasper Hjulmand does not see his team as underdogs and hopes the pressure of having 60,000 expectant home supporters can work against England.

"There are some psychological factors in the game," he said. "They have a lot of supporters, but we also have to remember that they have a lot of pressure and expectations.

"I don't think it is going to be so easy for them. We believe that we can take advantage of the pressure that England feel."

The prize for England would be a first major final appearance since their 1966 World Cup triumph, with the prospect prompting plenty of excitement across the country.

The hopeful refrain of "It's coming home" from the Euro 96 song 'Three Lions' has become something of a rallying call, although Schmeichel – whose father Peter helped Denmark to a shock success at Euro 92 – could not resist poking a little fun at his adopted country's expense.

"Has it ever been home?" he chuckled.

"I don't know, have you ever won it? Was [1966] not the World Cup?"

Schmeichel added: "To be honest, I haven't given any thought to what it would mean to stop England, rather than what it would do for Denmark – the joy it would bring to a country of five million people, competing with the nations we're competing with.

"I've not really thought much about England's feelings on this."

England will battle the weight of expectation and a poor recent record against Denmark in their Euro 2020 semi-final at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday.

The Three Lions enjoyed the most one-sided of all the quarter-finals, defeating Ukraine 4-0 in Rome as they stretched their run at this tournament to five games without conceding a goal.

However, history has not been kind to England at this stage of the competition. They lost their only previous semi-finals – against Yugoslavia in 1968 and Germany in 1996, when now manager Gareth Southgate missed the crucial kick in the shoot-out – and the omens are not necessarily positive given they have won only one of the previous six competitive meetings with Denmark.

Indeed, the only previous occasion England won a semi-final was in the 1966 World Cup on home soil, when they defeated Eusebio's Portugal 2-1.

"We've knocked off so many hoodoos or perceived barriers already and I feel like this group of players will feel this is just the next challenge," said Southgate, who led England to the final four at the World Cup three years ago only to be defeated by Croatia.

"I guess the interesting part for us is we won't feel totally satisfied if it's just a semi-final for us, whereas maybe three years ago, although there was massive disappointment after the semi-final, there was a feeling we'd come a long way.

"Now we've replicated what we did there, but that won't be enough to fulfil the group. That's a positive sign."

 

Kasper Hjulmand's Denmark have defied the odds to reach this stage after losing their first two games while dealing with the hospitalisation of Christian Eriksen, who collapsed during their opening defeat to Finland. Their 2-1 win over the Czech Republic in the previous round secured their last-four spot for the first time since they won the tournament back in 1992.

England defender Harry Maguire is fully prepared for a difficult game in London against a side who have scored 11 times at these finals, a tally bettered only by Spain (12) among the semi-finalists.

"Their journey has been really inspiring and all our thoughts have always been with Christian and his recovery," he said.

"They're a good team though and they've proved that over the last few years, they'll be the highest-ranked team we've faced so far at the competition so we know they're strong."

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

England – Harry Maguire

Maguire's last game against Denmark lasted just 31 minutes as he was sent off for two bookings in a 1-0 loss in October 2020.

It was a difficult time for the Manchester United captain, who had recently gone through legal proceedings in Greece and had endured a wretched start to the Premier League season that included a 6-1 home defeat to Tottenham.

Maguire is now a player transformed. He has looked imperious since returning from an ankle injury, helping to shut down Germany and Ukraine's attack in the knockouts and getting on the scoresheet in that quarter-final win.

Denmark – Joakim Maehle

Atalanta wing-back Joakim Maehle has been arguably not only Denmark's standout star at the Euros but perhaps the best player of the entire tournament.

Directly involved in three of his side's 11 goals, Maehle assisted Kasper Dolberg's crucial second against the Czech Republic with a quite wonderful trivela cross from the left. He should really have scored himself in the second half, too.

England's defence has been resolute throughout, but Maehle might present a more unorthodox test as an energetic left wing-back with a mean right foot. His battle with Kyle Walker could be key.

 

KEY OPTA FACTS

- This will be the third meeting between England and Denmark in a major tournament. England won 3-0 in the second round of the 2002 World Cup, after a goalless draw in the group stages of Euro 1992 – a competition that Denmark went on to win.

- All seven meetings between England and Denmark at Wembley Stadium have finished 1-0, with England winning five to Denmark's two. Denmark have won their past two competitive games against England at the stadium (1983 and 2020), with no side ever winning three consecutive competitive games against the Three Lions at Wembley.

- Denmark have had seven different goalscorers at Euro 2020 – excluding own goals, only Germany in 2012 (8) have had more different players score in a single edition of the European Championship.

- England have kept a clean sheet in all five of their games at Euro 2020 – no team has ever kept six clean sheets in a single edition of the European Championship or World Cup before.

- Harry Kane has been involved in 27 goals in his past 26 games for England (18 scored, nine assisted). He has nine goals at major tournaments (six at the World Cup, three at the Euros), with only Gary Lineker netting more such goals for England (10).

Euro 2020 is disappearing before our eyes, with the delayed tournament somehow already at the business end as we head into the final three matches.

It's been a thrill ride since the very beginning. From Italy making a sparkling start and Denmark rallying after Christian Eriksen's medical emergency, to France falling at the last 16 and England reaching the semi-finals of a second successive major tournament.

Italy, England, Spain and Denmark are all that's left as Euro 2020 enters its final week, and at this point it seems particularly tricky to call, particularly between first three.

But, given how integral statistics are to football these days, data can potentially give you edge when attempting to predict certain outcomes, and this is where Stats Perform's Artificial Intelligence team comes in as they've used Opta's extensive data reserves to quantify each semi-finalist's chances of winning tournament.

Every match has been run through the Stats Perform Euros Prediction model to calculate the estimated probability of the outcome (win, draw or loss). This uses odds from betting markets and Stats Perform team rankings, which are based on historical and recent performances and also takes into consideration the strength of each side's opponents.

The games are then simulated 40,000 times and analysed, providing the AI team with a percentage for each nation, showing the probability of them ultimately lifting the trophy at Wembley on July 11.

Without any further ado, let's take a look at the results…

Denmark (8.8 per cent chance of winning Euro 2020)

The fact Denmark even got out of their group was an achievement in itself as they became the first team to ever reach the knockout phase having lost their opening two matches. Yet, here we are.

The Danes are into the last four for the first time since winning the competition in 1992 and have really hit their stride since their two early defeats, with only Spain (12) outscoring Kasper Hjulmands' men until this point (11) – that haul is the most they've ever managed at a major tournament.

 

Denmark have projected a real sense of unity since Eriksen collapsed against Finland, and it's hard to believe they will fear anyone at this point.

Nevertheless, England should represent trickier opposition than the likes of Wales and the Czech Republic, which is perhaps reflected by the fact their 8.8 per cent chance of winning the title is the lowest of the four remaining teams.

But if standout performers such as Joakim Maehle, Simon Kjaer and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg continue to deliver the goods, who's to say they cannot emulate the 1992 vintage?

 

Spain (23.1 per cent)

Luis Enrique's Spain have been a fascinating watch at Euro 2020, partly because they somehow manage to flitter between exceptional and unrefined. Their erratic nature has become one of the sideshows of the tournament.

For example, only the Netherlands (53) have forced more high turnovers than Spain, while La Roja are the sole side to break the 100 barrier in terms of sequences of 10 or more passes (147). They only allow their opponents 8.3 passes on average in the defensive third before they initiate a defensive action, indicating they are the most intense pressers at the tournament, and their haul of 12 goals is more than anyone else.

 

Yet, their xGA (expected goals against) of 6.8 is comfortably the worst of the four teams left, and their xG underperformance of 3.6 is the biggest of all 24 teams. In short, these points suggest that not only have Spain been lucky to only concede five times, they are also the most wasteful team at Euro 2020.

 

That's obviously not helped by the fact Gerard Moreno (no goals from 3.3 xG) and Alvaro Morata (two goals from 3.95 xG) are among the three players with the worst xG underperformance records in the competition.

However, they've got this far and have still crafted plenty of goal-scoring opportunities, with their record of 25 big chances a tournament-high. If the penny drops with Spain's forwards and they start to convert in line with their xG, they could have real joy.

 

England (29.1 per cent)

It would be fair to say England's performances in the group stage, although not alarming, certainly didn't inspire a huge amount of confidence as they scored just two goals. But in the two games since, they have netted six times and attracted significant acclaim.

The fact they don't necessarily stand out in many specific team metrics (perhaps bar 10+ passing sequences – 98, second to Spain) is arguably partly down to how flexible Gareth Southgate's team have been in their approach to specific games. For example, their passes per defensive action (PPDA) dropped from 13.7 against Scotland to 25.9 against Germany, suggesting they were concerned about the German midfield playing through their press and instead sat back more in order to cut off passing routes.

Of course, adapting to your opponents is hardly revolutionary, most teams do it to a certain extent, but in a tournament where Spain and Italy have almost religiously stuck to principals and formations that govern their setups, England have chopped and changed.

 

It's clearly worked as well given the fact the Three Lions have equalled a major-tournament record of five successive clean sheets, while their 2.95 xGA (with no goals conceded) leads the way at Euro 2020.

With their defence seemingly watertight and Harry Kane finding some confidence with three goals in two games, England look in great shape. If our prediction model took into consideration that all of the remaining games are to be at Wembley, they'd likely be a bit closer to top spot.

 

Italy (38.9 per cent)

It seems like a long time ago now that Italy came into Euro 2020 as – some claimed at the time – unknown quantities. The common conception was that their 27-match unbeaten run coming into the tournament was misleading because most of the games were said to have been against sub-optimal opposition.

Well, they are now at 32 games unbeaten having won or drawn all of their five matches to this point at Euro 2020, setting a new national record in the process.

But, more than that, they've been utterly joyful to watch. They are relentless in attack, as highlighted by their tournament-leading shot (11) and goal-ending high turnovers (three), but also impressive at the back having only conceded one non-penalty goal.

 

Built around a solid core of Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci, Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella that expertly blends craft and guile arguably unlike any team at Euro 2020, Roberto Mancini's turned Italy into a side that's not only been generally fun to watch, but also effective.

Spain represent a completely different challenge to any other side Italy have faced thus far, yet Luis Enrique's men have afforded their opponents plenty of chances. The Azzurri have been consistent throughout in attack, as demonstrated by their 11 goals from 10.3 xG. Without the one own goal in their favour, it would be 10 from 10.3 xG.

 

Italy have shown no major weaknesses en route to the semi-finals, and as such our model suggests it is they who have the greatest chance of success this week.

Atletico Madrid defender Kieran Trippier refused to discuss speculation linking him with Manchester United, insisting his full focus is on England's Euro 2020 campaign.

Trippier has been linked with a move from LaLiga champions Atletico to Premier League giants United this off-season.

The 30-year-old has spent the past two seasons in Spain and is reportedly open to a switch to United but declined to discuss any possible move ahead of Wednesday's Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark at Wembley.

"I've just enjoyed the season [at Atletico] and we've won the title," Trippier told reporters.

"I'm away with England, we're playing Denmark and I'm not focusing on my club or what is going on.

"I'm just focused on England and doing as best as I can if I play. If I don't play, I still give 100 per cent."

Trippier, who has one more year remaining on his current Atletico contract, is riding a wave of confidence after lifting the LaLiga title, which is oozing into his England performances having started against Germany and Croatia.

"It's been an unbelievable season and it motivates me to win more, even at my age," Trippier said.

"Coming away with England, it gives me real confidence and maybe I can share that experience with others who have not won things.

"Then again, we have players who are winning trophies with their clubs now and they all have that winning mentality."

United have not won the Premier League title since 2012-13, nor any trophy whatsoever since 2017 after losing the 2020-21 Europa League final to Villarreal.

England have won just one of their last six competitive meetings with Denmark (D3 L2), with that victory coming at the 2002 World Cup (3-0).

Gareth Southgate's England are playing in their third European Championship semi-final, losing to Yugoslavia in 1968 and going out on penalties to Germany in 1996. As it stands, the Three Lions have played more games at the Euros without ever reaching the final than any other nation (36).

England’s 4-0 rout of Ukraine in the quarter-final was their biggest ever European Championship win, and their biggest victory in the knockout stages of any major tournament. Indeed, they netted as many goals against Ukraine as they had in their previous four Euro 2020 matches combined.

Meanwhile, England have kept a clean sheet in all five of their games at Euro 2020 so far – no team has ever kept six clean sheets in a single edition of the European Championship or World Cup before.

England are a better side now than the one that lost to Croatia at the 2018 World Cup and have a lot more faith in overcoming Denmark in their latest semi-final, according to Harry Maguire.

The Three Lions eased to a 4-0 win over Ukraine in Saturday's Euro 2020 quarter-final in Rome – their biggest win in the knockout stages of a major tournament – to set up a showdown with Denmark at Wembley on Wednesday.

England lost their most recent semi-final appearance in the competition on penalties to Germany in 1996, while also losing at that stage to Croatia in the World Cup three years ago en route to finishing fourth.

Not since being crowned world champions on home soil in 1966 have England reached the final of a major tournament, but Maguire insists his side will use the pain of their most recent semi-final heartbreak to drive them on.

"The motivation is there," he said at a news conference on Monday. "It's the semi-final of the European Championship. Losing the semi-final at the World Cup hurt a lot.

"We need to make sure when it comes on Wednesday we get a positive feeling rather than the one we got against Croatia.

"I think we're in a lot better place than we were then. The experience of that, we've learnt from it and also the experience of the games in between as well, for example the Nations League.

"We've had a lot of big games in that period to improve and a lot of time spent together on the training pitch, friendlies and qualifiers. Every game we play we feel we improve.

"My mentality will be the same, but there is more belief going into Denmark than Croatia. We hadn't been to a semi-final in so long in 2018 so the belief wasn't there. We've just got to focus on ourselves."

 

Wednesday's match will be a special occasion for Gareth Southgate, who will become just the second manager to take charge of England in the semi-finals of both the World Cup and the European Championship after Alf Ramsey in 1966 and 1968.

"Gareth sits here and gives us all the plaudits," Maguire said. "But we appreciate the job he's doing and the way that he sets us up and his man-management skills.

"I can't speak highly enough of him and his coaching staff and the way that he's gone about his business over the last four years."

Maguire made his senior international debut under Southgate in October 2017 and has gone on to make 35 appearances for England, the most recent of those being the quarter-final win against Ukraine in which he scored his side's second goal.

England are expected to be given a far tougher test by Denmark, who are competing in the semi-finals of the competition for the first time since famously lifting the trophy against all the odds in 1992.

The Nordic nation – the first team to qualify from the group stage despite losing their first two games - have been the story of the tournament following Christian Eriksen's cardiac arrest on the pitch in their opener against Finland.

Eriksen has subsequently recovered and is in regular contact with his team-mates, who have gone from strength to strength since understandably making a slow start to the competition.

"First and foremost, our thoughts have always been with Christian and his recovery and we're all right behind that," Maguire said. "They're a good team. They've proved that for years.

"They're the highest-ranked team we will have played in this competition. They're a strong team with great leaders in their team, great experience. We know it will be a tough game, but we're really focused on ourselves."

All seven meetings between England and Denmark at Wembley have finished 1-0, with England winning five to Denmark's two, though the Danes have won their last two competitive games against the Three Lions at the stadium.

 

Denmark and England have joined Italy and Spain in the semi-finals of Euro 2020, with the Czech Republic and Ukraine sent packing following their respective defeats.

England seemed to back up pre-tournament suggestions of them being among the favourites when they dumped Germany out in the last 16, and they picked up where they left off to make light work of Ukraine.

It was a slightly trickier occasion for Denmark in Baku earlier in the day, though ultimately the efforts of Patrik Schick weren't enough for the Czechs as they failed to emulate the 2004 vintage that reached the last four.

Following the conclusion of the quarter-finals, Stats Perform looks at the key data takeaways from Saturday's action.

 

Ukraine 0-4 England: Record-breaking Three Lions ruthless in big win

The odds were stacked against Ukraine ahead of this clash in Rome, but even the most ardent England fans probably wouldn't have predicted such a comprehensive win.

England quickly had the advantage as Raheem Sterling sliced open the defence and fed Harry Kane to open the scoring with three minutes and 32 seconds played, their earliest Euros goal since 2004 (2:25).

Ukraine may have taken some encouragement from the fact England's previous record when scoring in the first four minutes of a Euros game equated to no wins from five matches, but the game was effectively put beyond them within a four minutes of the restart – Harry Maguire and Kane nodding home Luke Shaw deliveries.

 

The Manchester United full-back reached three assists for the tournament in the process, tying an England record for a single European Championship (David Beckham, Euro 2000), while Kane's second of the game means he is level with Alan Shearer on nine major-tournament goals for the Three Lions, behind only Gary Lineker (10).

Jordan Henderson then completed the scoring off the bench with his first senior goal on his 62nd appearance, the longest ever wait by a player before breaking their duck for the Three Lions.

Ukraine's inability to breach the England defence meant the Three Lions have now kept seven successive clean sheets for the first time in their history.

But most impressively of all, this was England's biggest-ever win at the Euros and largest victory in the knockouts of any major tournament.

 

Czech Republic 1-2 Denmark: Schick ties with Ronaldo but Danes seal historic semi-final

Given their run in Euro 2020 has come against the backdrop of Christian Eriksen's health emergency on matchday one, it's little wonder Denmark have seemingly become the neutrals' favourites.

They moved a step close to emulating their remarkable Euro 92 success as they edged past the Czech Republic. Their 29-year gap between Euros semi-finals is the longest ever by a single nation in the competitions.

They prevailed despite the efforts of Patrik Schick. The striker got the Czechs back into the encounter with a tidy second-half finish that made him only the fourth player to score five goals in a single major tournament for Czech Republic/Czechoslovakia, also drawing him level with Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the golden boot.

 

Earlier, though, Denmark had enjoyed a great start as Thomas Delaney headed in Denmark's second-earliest Euros goal (4:52) to level the country's all-time record for goals (10) at a single major tournament.

That record was then broken just before the break. Kasper Dolberg became Denmark's joint-top scorer in Euros history (three) with the effort that proved decisive, though Joakim Maehle's assist got most of the attention.

His outside-of-the-boot cross took him to three goal involvements (two goals, one assist) in his past three Denmark games, more than in his other 12.

Denmark certainly didn't have it all their own way, with the Czechs' 16 shots more than they managed in any other Euro 2020 game, but Kasper Hjulmand's men held firm to secure their passage to Wembley.

 

 

Denmark's squad are constantly thinking of Christian Eriksen as their Euro 2020 adventure continues, so says Kasper Hjulmand.

The Danes beat the Czech Republic 2-1 on Saturday to progress to their fourth European Championship semi-final – and their first since they won the tournament in 1992.

Hjulmand's side, whose tally of 11 goals in the competition trails only Spain, will face Ukraine or England at Wembley on Wednesday after Thomas Delaney and Kasper Dolberg saw them through in Baku.

Denmark – the first team to qualify from the group stage despite losing their first two games – have become the story of the tournament following Eriksen's cardiac arrest on the pitch in Copenhagen in their opener against Finland.

 

Eriksen has subsequently recovered and is in regular contact with his team-mates, who have gone from strength to strength, garnering a wave of support not just at home, but across the continent.

"I think the whole world of football understood that second, and the days after, the fundamental things in life and in football, the fundamental values of football came through right at that moment," Hjulmand told a news conference.

"There are so many other agendas in football, but we all remembered why we started to play football, what values football is based on and we had a reminder of this.

"I am still thinking of Christian every single day. He should have been here.

"We are happy that he survived, we carry him all the way to this match and all the way to Wembley. I think about him all of the time.

"We all understood maybe that the values of football came through – and maybe we are a symbol of it. I could not be more happy than that.

"We are just happy and proud we can maybe just remind ourselves why we love football and what football can do in the world."

 

Denmark's first-half display ultimately did the damage against the Czech Republic, who dragged one back through Patrik Schick early in the second half.

Schick joined Cristiano Ronaldo at the top of the Euro 2020 scoring charts, but will not get the chance to add to his tally as Denmark held firm.

Delaney got things started for before Dolberg joined a host of Denmark legends on three goals at European Championships, and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder added of Eriksen: "It is still something we are struggling with, but making him proud makes me happy."

Page 2 of 6
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.