England must hope they haven’t used up all their luck before the final


And breathe. The celebrations following England’s Euro 2020 semi-final win over Denmark went on long into the night. The Three Lions had not reached a major international final since they won the World Cup in 1966, but on one night at Wembley, Gareth Southgate’s side ended that long wait, and now attention turns to the final, where they will take on Italy for the chance to end those 55 years of hurt once and for all.

The semi-final was a nervy affair at times, but in the end, you can’t say that England didn’t deserve to win the match. They were the better team for large parts, particularly towards the end of the 90 minutes and into the extra time, where Denmark seemed to tire and run out of steam. But there was still a degree of fortune in the way that England sealed their passage to the final.

Having gone behind in the first half to Mikkel Damsgaard’s stunning free-kick, England picked up the pace and began to dominate. Raheem Sterling should have brought them level, but his close-range strike was expertly parried away by Kasper Schmeichel in the Danish goal. Then a lucky break came the Three Lions’ way, as Bukayo Saka’s square ball was bundled into his own net by Denmark captain Simon Kjær. It was just what the doctor ordered for England, and it was game on once again.

Despite England dominating most of the second half, they couldn’t find another goal. Denmark defended resolutely, and in truth England did not produce enough quality in attacking areas to find that elusive second goal. It was reminiscent of England’s performances in the group stage, where they laboured in attack and only managed two goals across the three games.

As extra time began, England were well on top. Denmark had tired considerably, and it felt like a matter of time, but they still could not make the breakthrough. In the end, fortune favoured Southgate’s men once again. Sterling tumbled in the box. There was minimal contact, but the referee pointed to the spot. Harry Kane stepped up. His penalty was saved, but Schmeichel parried it back into his path. Empty goal. Net rippling. England had the lead, but they owed Lady Luck a lot of thanks.

The fear is that England won’t be so lucky in the final. Italy will not grant them as many openings, so there will be pressure on the attacking players to make the most of their opportunities in forward areas when they arrive. The odds on Italy vs England suggest there is nothing to separate the two teams, and so England cannot rely on own goals or favourable penalty decisions in the final. They will need to show more.

But then, winning any tournament requires fortune to favour a team in the vital moments. You can’t deny that England were the better team against Denmark, but they needed those swings of momentum to get the job done. Italy rode their luck against Spain too, and it will be interesting to see which team seizes the initiative in the final. It could all come down to one player, and with Kane now a contender in the UEFA Euro 2020 top scorer odds, he’ll be doubly motivated to continue his scoring run and fire England to glory.

The most important thing in a semi-final is to win. It doesn’t matter how you get to a final, particularly when you’ve waited 55 long years to get back to the showpiece match at a major international tournament. Southgate and co. will be hoping that fortune favours them once again on Sunday.