TThere were 33 minutes left on the clock at Wembley when Gareth Southgate decided he had to do something before England fell into the kind of demented, exhausted state that hasn’t been seen in a major tournament since Brazil imploded in their Cup semi-final. of the World against Germany seven years. behind.
Southgate being Southgate, he followed a rather moderate gesture. There was no bellowing, no arm shaking, no rage as he plotted his way back to the semi-final. After all, it was a time for composure. England was a goal for a smart and dangerous Denmark, their clean sheet streak ended with a beautiful free kick from Mikkel Damsgaard, and they were in danger of a total systems collapse, especially with Jordan Pickford being over-pumped and in too much of a hurry. to get things moving.
It hadn’t been a good opening period for Pickford. An early mistake, a ball thrown directly at the feet of the influential Thomas Delaney, had brought out the worst features of the England goalkeeper. He was soon struggling with his kicks, sending some panic punts out of the game, unsettling his teammates, and it came as no surprise when Denmark took the lead after 30 minutes, Damsgaard’s curling shot no more than the team from Kasper Hjulmand deserved after a period of hard-hitting, perceptive play.
The goal was coming. England’s initial enthusiasm had waned, Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips smothered by the relentless hustle and bustle of Delaney and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in midfield, Damsgaard becoming more influential as he moved from the left. The heat was on and England was in uncharted territory: behind for the first time in the entire tournament, the restless crowd, the intrigue now of whether Southgate’s players were capable of dealing with adversity.
It was one of the last remaining questions surrounding this team and the signs were worrying at first. Pickford, perhaps disappointed that he missed Damsgaard’s shot, threw a dismal pass straight to Kasper Dolberg and England fans howled, prompting Southgate to enter his technical area and do something very simple: call for calm.
England had to take a breath. They had to remember the lessons of all those past failures, all those times when they ran like headless chickens and regain their composure. They had to remember that this team is supposed to be different, smarter, not like the teams of yesteryear.
Little by little they calmed down, imposing themselves on Denmark, taking the game by the neck. Kyle Walker had a long talk with Pickford, urging him to stop channeling Joe Hart’s spirit, to resist the urge to yell at an unsuspecting ball boy. On the right flank, Bukayo Saka, a bit hesitant at first, began to scare Denmark. And most important of all, Harry Kane decided it was time to take over.
This was Kane at his best, a mix of striker and playmaker, challenging those who think he is best as a pure No. 9. He fell deep for the ball, opened to make room, combining with Saka to twist Denmark out of shape, and took responsibility for waking up to his side.
Saka-Kane’s understanding was critical. First it was Saka to Kane, whose cross should have been turned by Raheem Sterling. Then the roles were reversed, Kane brilliantly released Saka, who sought out Sterling and watched Simon Kjær score an own goal.
England had their answer. His worries disappeared in the second half. England pressed and Denmark fell back, retreating defensively. It was about craftsmanship, about ingenuity, whether England had the knack of taking down a weary Danish defense.
Jack Grealish came in, excitement building as he taunted and tormented his scorers, followed by Jordan Henderson and Phil Foden at the start of overtime, Southgate making good use of his bench. Denmark seemed cooked at the time, especially with some of their best players already out. It became England against Kasper Schmeichel, whose goal was to get splashed, and it didn’t take any particular tactical alchemy to figure out that the best way to overcome it was to keep testing those aching Danish legs.
Passing Sterling, driving on the right, making the most of the minimal contact of an exhausted Joakim Mæhle. Dutch referee Danny Makkelie pointed the spot and Kane almost held back, causing frenzied scenes in the corner after putting England 2-1 up.
However, one person remained calm. On the touchline, Southgate stayed true to himself, using the interval to knock out Grealish for Kieran Trippier, announcing a switch to a back three when England seemed to see themselves on the line.
He was back in control, a theme of England’s run to their first final since 1966. They had managed to stay behind. Southgate had shown them the way, urging his players to manage their emotions, giving them the strength and clarity to overcome another hurdle.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism